US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Iraq as forces of the war-torn country embarked on major air-and-ground offensive to drive IS extremists from western Mosul. Iraqâ€™s second-largest city Mosul fell into the hands of the extremists in the summer of 2014, when the group captured large swaths of northern and western Iraq.
Iraqi army, special operations forces, and federal police units are taking part in the operation along with government-approved paramilitary forces. The US-led coalition has been providing close air support throughout the four-month-old Mosul offensive. The operation to wrest back western Mosul comes after the Iraqi troops liberated eastern Mosul from extremist last month. But the militants have continued to stage attacks there.
The battle for western Mosul promises to be even more daunting, as half of the city west of the Tigris River has older, narrower streets and is still heavily populated. The United Nations warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside their homes in Mosul â€˜are at extreme risk,â€™ with dwindling fuel, food and water and scarce electricity. Lack of fuel and skyrocketing prices of daily-use items have forced the shops and bakeries to shut down. Poor families are burning wood, furniture, plastic or garbage for cooking and heating. Civilians face dire situation amid ongoing offensive against the extremists. People are simply unable to feed their families. Three out of five people now depend on untreated water from wells for cooking and drinking as water systems and treatment plants have been damaged by fighting or run out of chlorine. The humanitarian agencies were gearing up to aid 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee because of the fighting.
The fight against IS extremists have cost Iraq too much. Thousands of civilians have died. Cities and villages are destroyed. Hundreds of thousands have been rendered refugees. The extremist have plundered the countryâ€™s oil. Still, Iraqi government and its troops are putting up a good fight to drive out the extremists from Mosul. But these efforts could be complicated by Trumpâ€™s oil threat and his inclusion of Iraq in the administrationâ€™s travel ban. Trumpâ€™s statement was a big blow to Iraqi troopsâ€™ morale and spurred local lawmakers to pressure Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reduce cooperation with Washington.
But Mattis statement that US does not intend to seize Iraqi oil marks a shift from Trump idea. But the tensions come at a critical point in the war against IS.
On other hand, defeating IS extremists is a Trumpâ€™s top priority. In his inauguration address, he pledged to eradicate terrorism â€˜completely from the face of the Earth.â€™ He even talked about increasing the number of US troops in order to â€˜knock outâ€™ IS. Mattis arrives in Baghdad as the Pentagon considers ways to accelerate the campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria. Trump has given Mattis and senior military leaders 30 days to come up with a new plan to beef up the fight.
At this juncture, it is important that US and Iraq iron out differences and devise strategy to wipe out IS. Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge. Iraqi forces are an increasingly capable, formidable and professional force. We must do everything to safeguard troopsâ€™ morale.