The Calm Before the Mosul Storm


The Calm Before the Mosul Storm

17 Nov 2016

For months, both Iraqi and allied forces, and ISIS, were poised for the Mosul offensive. This extract from the Global Extremism Monitor quarterly examines how they were getting ready.

This is an extract from the Global Extremism Monitor quarterly. Click here for the full report.

In the run up to the offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS, which began on 17 October, our data shows a considerable decrease in attacks and fatalities in Iraq. The number of incidents perpetrated by extremist groups, state militaries, and non-state militias in the country fell by 27 per cent since July. Though the offensive was still ongoing at the time of print, data from the months before the assault gives insight into how ISIS responds to counter-terror attacks.

State counter-extremism incidents in Iraq decreased by 43 per cent over the quarter, and civilian deaths from violent extremism fell by 58 per cent, with at least 658 fatalities in July, 411 in August, and 278 in September.

This data trend suggests that forces in the country were investing time and resources ahead of the battle for Iraq's second largest city, which has been under ISIS control since June 2014. The Iraqi military, US-led anti- ISIS coalition, Kurdish forces, and mostly Shia Popular Mobilisation Units are all involved in the push.

Since the fall of Mosul to ISIS, various attempts have been made to retake the group's de-facto capital in Iraq. In the months ahead of the launch, forces preparing for the Mosul offensive were positioning themselves near the city. Multiple surrounding villages including Qayara airfield were retaken. The airfield was seen as a strategic launching-pad for the operation.

As the push drew closer, US-led coalition members and Iraqi forces seemed to be accelerating their preparations, with Washington announcing an increase in the number of US troops in Iraq at the end of September.

ISIS was also getting ready to defend the city. The group will not retreat easily from the place where its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a 'caliphate' in June 2014. The so-called 'caliphate' was the group's attempt at greater political and theological legitimacy, in the eyes of some Muslims. Mosul would be a major strategic and symbolic loss for ISIS, and it will be prepared for a fight to the death.

Our data shows there was a 56 per cent drop in fatalities caused by ISIS in Iraq over the quarter. This suggests that ISIS was devoting its efforts to preparing for the attack, rather than engaging in combat. The scale of attacks reduced over the quarter as well. Against a backdrop of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq, on 3 July, ISIS carried out its biggest attack in the three months on a shopping complex in the mainly Shia Karrada district, causing 282 deaths. August saw the second and third largest attacks of the period by ISIS with, 104 and 85 casualties respectively.

The battle for Mosul will likely be a long and drawn-out process. The drop in violence we captured in the data rep- resents the calm before the Mosul storm.

Since the beginning of the battle, ISIS lured its opponents into a brutal fight, complete with booby traps and suicide bombers. As the offensive continues, the group will alienate Mosul's residents, causing a similar humanitarian crisis to the one seen in the operation for Fallujah this year. ISIS' control of Mosul has already added greatly to the refugee crisis, as hundreds of thousands have fled in recent months.

Added to this is the threat of sectarian violence. Shia militias involved in the Mosul offensive have been accused of torturing, detaining, and executing Sunnis escaping areas controlled by ISIS.

See the Data

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