Pentagon Says Islamic State Fortifying Mosul Stronghold in Iraq

  • Militant group rigged city with explosives ahead of assault
  • U.S. calls on Turkey, Iraq to focus on coalition offensive

Islamic State has dug trenches and rigged roads and buildings with explosives ahead of a U.S.-led coalition offensive to dislodge the militants from their stronghold in Mosul in northern Iraq.

“We’re certainly well aware that this is going to be a difficult challenge, a difficult operation,” U.S. Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said on Tuesday. He also said that Islamic State is “demoralized” and “having a harder time exercising command and control over their own forces.”

Retaking Mosul is a key strategic and symbolic goal for Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition, because it was the first major Iraqi city claimed by Islamic State and it’s where its leader declared his so-called caliphate. Along with continuing setbacks in neighboring Syria, it would deprive the group of a key staging ground and claim to legitimacy.

But the expected coalition offensive has also stoked tensions between Baghdad and neighboring Turkey, which said on Tuesday its troops in Iraq will join the fight against the militants despite strong opposition from Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

“You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, you are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech, referring to al-Abadi.

Quick Retort

“We are not your enemy and we will liberate our land through the determination of our men,” al-Abadi replied on Twitter.

Sending troops to the Mosul fight would be the second time in as many months that Turkey has put its NATO ally, the U.S., in an awkward position. Turkish forces flowed into Syria to retake the border town of Jarablus last month, with tanks and armored units advancing toward militant-held areas northwest of Aleppo. That prompted the U.S. to ask its Kurdish militia allies to withdraw.

The dispute over the Mosul offensive is a “matter that the government of Iraq and the government of Turkey need to work out,” said Defense Department spokesman Davis. “We would just encourage all parties to focus on the common enemy at hand, which is ISIL,” he said, using another name for Islamic State.

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