The Iraqi Army has entered Mosul for the first time in over two years at the start of a battle which is likely to end in a decisive defeat for IS. The significance of the fight for Mosul will be all the greater for IS because its self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to be still inside the city, a senior Kurdish official has told the reporters.
Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, said in an exclusive interview that his government had information from multiple sources that “Baghdadi is there and, if he is killed, it will mean the collapse of the whole (IS) system.” IS would have to choose a new caliph in the middle of a battle, but no successor would have the authority and prestige of Baghdadi, the leader who surprised the world by establishing the caliphate after capturing Mosul in June 2014.
Baghdadi has kept himself concealed for the last eight or nine months according to Mr Hussein, who added that the caliph had become very dependent on IS commanders from Mosul and Tal Afar, a city just to the west of Mosul. Other senior and better known figures in IS, particularly those from Syria and other countries, have been killed since their initial triumphs in the summer of 2014 when they took over much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
The presence of Baghdadi in Mosul may complicate and prolong the battle for Mosul as his surviving adherents fight to the death to defend him. Mr Hussein said that “it is obvious that they will lose, but not how long this will take to happen.” He said that Kurdish Peshmerga forces had been impressed by the extraordinary number of tunnels that IS had dug in order to provide hiding places in the villages around Mosul.
Iraqi Special Forces advanced into Mosul, which once had a population of two million, on Tuesday seizing the state television on the east bank of the Tigris River that divides the city in half. Mr Hussein said that the speed of the fall of Mosul would depend on many factors especially whether or not IS “is going to destroy the five bridges over the river.”[caption id="attachment_27856" align="aligncenter" width="800"] An Iraqi Christian police attends the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul in Iraq October 30, 2016 REUTERS[/caption]
Documents and posters obtained from villages held by IS have revealed a strict system of rule by the militants, spelling out required beard lengths and guidelines for taking women as sex slaves.
Colourful posters and pamphlets, found in offices that were being used by IS just days before, reportedly bear the group's logo and go to great lengths to explain their extremist ideology.
Members of the Iraqi forces told the reporters the documents originated from IS, although this could not be independently verified.
In tears, a young girl takes off her niqab after #Peshmerga carried her to safety. #ISIS tyranny is over for her.pic.twitter.com/Fa9hxeoWug — Julie Lenarz (@MsJulieLenarz) November 2, 2016
Under IS's rules women are required to stay at home or wear head-to-toe black coverings if they went out. Men meanwhile wear shorts that were deemed Islamic along with beards of appropriate shape and length.
Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have so far seized several villages and towns during an offensive against the northern city of Mosul, IS's last stronghold in the country.
IS is trying to move up to 25,000 people into Mosul as they prepare for what is likely to be an intense battle for control of the city now that Iraqi coalition forces have reached its outskirts.
The offensive to liberate Mosul - home to some 1.5 million people - is likely to be long and gruelling, with fighting expected to go from house-to-house and street-to-street.