By Halo Kakawais
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Iraqi army's first target in the military operation to reclaim western Mosul, also known as the right bank, is the strategic Mosul Airport, on the southern edge of the city.
Passage from the left to the right hand of Mosul will be through the liberated neighborhoods of Falastin and Yarimja, via a makeshift bridge in the direction of al-Jusaq and al-Dendan neighborhoods on the west side of Tigris River, Rudaw has learned.
ISIS, though their forces in Mosul are depleted after months of fighting in the eastern half of the city and no supply routes to reinforce their numbers, is however prepared to put up a stiff fight. The group has prepared as many as 1,000 suicide bombers with an additional 3,000 to 4,000 jihadists aiming to resist and preserve the self-proclaimed caliphate's last main foothold in the country.
Abduljabar al-Jabouri, an Iraqi political analyst revealed some of ISIS’ strategies to Rudaw, saying "ISIS has prepared 1,000 suicide bombers for this war since it is their last war in Iraq."
Al-Jabouri predicted that "a third of the right side will be destroyed."
He explained that the majority of the ISIS militants "are in al-Islah Zirai and al-Musheirifat and the city's downtown. So, the largest fight will take place there."
Kazim Ali, a resident of western Mosul told Rudaw that ISIS has also "erected dirt mounds in the narrow-sized neighborhoods and has fully booby trapped Saribkhana neighborhood."
Ali added, in other tactics to halt Iraqi army advances, "ISIS militants have dug roads, then wired them with bombs and once again paved over with asphalt in order to target the Iraqi forces.”
The alleys of Farooq, Bab Lagish, Shaikhoon, Khibra Bazun, Saha, Bab Sarai, Dawasa, and Josaq neighborhoods are very narrow, creating problems for the army tanks to pass through. This gives ISIS the opportunity to more rely on alley-to-alley clashes, which will not be in favor of the Iraqi ground forces.
To resolve this military problem, Baghdad has provided a brand new vehicle, the MRZR 4, which is small in size and can break into the narrow neighborhoods.
In efforts to open a road to resupply and reinforce its militants, ISIS has been trying to break the siege of the Tal Afar-Shingal border area with Syria. Part of it is controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the other segment by Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.
Over the past two weeks, the group has carried out 10 assaults on the villages of Kharaba Jahsh and Asraj in the area of Ain Talawi Sharaia in a failed bid to break the siege.
In terms of humanitarian conditions, there is a shortage of basic necessities on the right side, which is more densely populated than the left side. An estimated 750,000 people are living in west Mosul. Of those, some 350,000 are children, according to Save the Children. Many of the residents are running out their sources of livelihood.
"Some residents of the right hand do not have bread and water. Even lack of fuel has forced them to burn their household furniture to warm themselves," an eyewitness who has fled to the liberated left side of Mosul, told Rudaw.
Saed Musa, another resident of the war-torn city and an employee of the city's municipality spoke of their daily hardships.
"Ten days ago we were given three kilos of flour... One egg sells for 1,500 IQD ($1.25)," he lamented.
Nasir Tani who paid $600 to escape to east Mosul told Rudaw, "medicines for long-term diseases cannot be obtained there at all."
According to the Iraqi observatory for human rights, some 25 children and 14 elderly in Mosul have starved to death.
The 55 ISIS-held western neighborhoods of Mosul have been surrounded by the Iraqi armed forces for 100 days.
Those who do try to flee, face the wrath of ISIS for trying to escape. “This is the grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay – or execution and snipers if they try to run,” Maurizio Crivallero, Iraq country director for Save the Children, said on Sunday.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the military operation to retake west Mosul from ISIS Sunday morning.
Addressing the Iraqi forces taking part in the operation, Abadi said, "I have told the world how brave you are and everyone is proud of you, of your success and victory with the people." He said that the Iraqi forces would liberate the people, and then the land.
CORRECTION: The previous version of the news article, in paragraph 18, mistakenly suggested that 25,000 children and 14,000 eldery have starved to death in Mosul.