Analysis. The Islamic State is booby trapping the city, deploying children as spies and readying snipers on the rooftops as a rag-tag alliance prepares its offensive.

ISIS and Erdogan are preparing to battle for Mosul

“It breaks my heart to see the children of Mosul become future terrorists. I taught my son to pretend to be autistic to avoid being recruited by Daesh. They are desperate and could force children to fight.” That message was picked up by Reuters from a Mosul resident via WhatsApp. Today, Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp are the only means of communication with the outside.

A million and a half people are still living there after the mass exodus of June 2014. In recent weeks, they have been witnessing the preparations of the Islamic State in view of the counter-offensive that Baghdad supposedly intends to launch later this month. For months, the militia have been armoring Iraq’s second city, building tunnels, trenches and minefields. Snipers are taking positions on rooftops.

But in recent days, according to information provided to Reuters by U.S. and Iraqi officials, the activities are intensified: Five bridges were filled with explosives, car bombs are ready to attack and surveillance is even more stifling.

According to former Foreign Minister Zebari, “they are much more conservative. They shave their beards to mingle with the population and constantly move their headquarters around.” In some cases, residents add, they hire children to act as spies around the city.

The other front is also prepared: Baghdad has sent more units to be stationed a few tens of kilometers east of the city. Also the Shiite militias are piling up, while the United States tries to keep them away from the front line: Thousands of men approached the Mosul dam.

Neither is Turkey happy about their presence. The Turks’ boots are pointing to Mosul, not so much with the intention to free it, but to have a role on the future of the capital of the Sunni province of Ninawa. After the contemptuous words of President Erdogan toward the Iraqi prime minister (“They are telling us to leave. But the Turkish army has not lost so much standing as to take orders from you. You are not my equal, you’re not on my level. Who are you? The Iraqi prime minister. Stay in your place”), Baghdad responded on Twitter, with al-Abadi ironically referencing the attempted July 15 coup and reminding Ankara there is no room in the battle of Mosul.

Turkey is turning a deaf ear. Vice Premier Kurtulmus has reaffirmed the intention to take part in the final battle with 1,000 men currently stationed in the Iraqi Bashiqa base, while other troops were being sent to the border with Iraq. Turkey’s goal is to break up Iraq into three administrative areas (Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite) to weaken the neighbor and distance it from Iran’s influence.

This is a goal shared by the U.S. administration, which, however, is concerned about Turkish interventionism, preferring more subtle and occult approaches. State Department spokesman John Kirby stated: “The Turkish forces that are deployed in Iraq are not there as part of the international coalition and the situation in Bashiqa is a matter for the governments of Iraq and Turkey to resolve.”

In the background there is the Islamic State, more a façade than a real goal. Despite its loss of territory, ISIS hits non-occupied areas with weekly attacks, while increasing the distance between communities. The attack on Oct. 2 near Erbil showcased the Islamists’ ongoing danger: A drone — a highly technological weapon — killed two peshmerga fighters and wounded French soldiers.

The BBC reported on ISIS activities in Syria, including the existence of an internment camp of the opposition group Jaysh al-Tahrir, the Free Syrian Army. It is intended to hold the Islamists captured and their families and, according to the rebels, it would serve to “rehabilitate” them and, in the case of foreign fighters, to send them back to their country of origin. And the locals? Could they be “reused” and sent back into the conflict alongside the opposition engaged in Aleppo?

Meanwhile the push and pull between the powers continues. After cancelling the trip to France to discuss the resolution proposed by Paris, Russia announced Wednesday the resumption of dialogue with the United States and the countries of the region, including Iran, in Lausanne, starting Saturday. The announcement follows renewed violence in Aleppo (55 dead in two days due to state raids) and Damascus (missiles shot by the opposition on residential areas) and the verbal crossfire between Moscow and the West, accused of “anti-Russian hysteria.” An approach that, according to statements by British sources to IBT, could ignite London. The RAF would have been ordered to take down Russian jets if they represent a threat.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!