In a speech to the nation, Prime Minister al-Abadi said that "the hour of victory" against Daesh has "arrived." Only government and police forces will enter the city, once freed. At least 25 thousand soldiers participating in the operation. The risk of a new sectarian conflict. The United Nations express "extreme concern" about the fate of the 1.5 million inhabitants.
Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A massive military operation is underway to retake Mosul, in northern Iraq, a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) since the summer of 2014. The announcement made by the Prime Minister Iraqi Haider al-Abadi, confirming the beginning of a long-awaited assault which, in recent days, had become a source of tension with Turkey. On the ground there are Kurdish Peshmerga troops, Iraqi Army soldiers and allied forces; a varied training, supported by the international US-led coalition which has been fighting in Iraq for some time.
The United Nations has already expressed "extreme concern" about the safety of some 1.5 million of people living in the area.
Mosul, the second largest city of the country and located about 360 km north-west of Baghdad, is the most important center controlled by Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, ed] in the Arab country.
Experts say the loss of the area would mean an actual defeat of the jihadists in Iraq, which, however, could replicate their strategy in neighboring Syria - where they control Raqqa and other areas - and continue their war.
In a speech broadcast on state television in the early hours Prime Minister al-Badi today stressed that "the hour of victory has arrived" and "the operation to liberate Mosul has begun." Today, added the Prime Minister, "I declare the beginning of the heroic operation to free you from Daesh".
"Inshallah - concluded the head of the government - we will find ourselves in Mosul to celebrate the liberation and your salvation from IS, so that we can all live together as before. All religions united and together we can defeat Daesh to rebuild the beloved city of Mosul. "
Surrounded by the army, the executive leader stressed - recalling the controversy of recent days, particularly with Ankara - that only government forces and the Iraqi police will enter Mosul.
The northern metropolis is a large majority Sunni and in recent years registered several incidents of sectarian violence, including against Christians who mourn the death of a bishop, priests and faithful.
Analysts and military policy experts point out that the green light - perhaps anticipated – for the recapture of Mosul aims to avert the danger of turning the battle into a new - and bloody - sectarian strife. A danger exacerbated by foreign interference, as evidenced by the words of Turkish President Erdogan last week who wants to surrender the city into the hands of Sunni Muslims and Turkmen.
Mosul has played a strategic role in the advance of the Islamic State. It is from here that the leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the "Caliphate", which includes a large portion of land - mostly desert - in northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria.
For months the Iraqi government and coalition forces have been studying the offensive for the recapture of the city and the governorate of Nineveh controlled by jihadists. Experts warn that the offensive could last weeks, if not months.
Thousands of government forces have gathered in the base of Qayyarah, a strategic town 60 km south of Mosul and reconquered in August, to launch the offensive. In recent days the military has dropped thousands of leaflets over the city, warning the civilian population that the beginning of military operations was "imminent".
The battle for the recapture of Mosul should be the most complex military operation that the Iraqi army has had to face yet on the ground. Baghdad has allocated more than 25 thousand soldiers, including paramilitary forces that include tribal Sunni and Shiite militias. They will have to overcome the resistance of 9 thousand jihadists - although some sources speak of only 3 thousand fighters – still in control of the city.
Taking part in the battle for Mosul are: the Iraqi army, supported by US militarily and intelligence forces in the country; the Iraqi police; popular paramilitary forces (Shiite), which respond to the Prime Minister and are reportedly supported by Iran; anti-terrorism experts, always on the front line against Daesh; the troops of the international coalition. Added to these are the Kurdish Peshmerga militia, which should answer to Baghdad but that in fact, act independently against the jihadists and the Turkish troops present in the territory of Iraq against the will of the central government and Prime Minister al-Abadi.
Before the war, Mosul was home to about 2 million inhabitants, while today there are around the 1.5 million. The fate of these civilians is of extreme concern to the United Nations, the UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and emergencies, Stephen O'Brien, is calling for protection and security for the residents. "I am very concerned - said the top diplomat – at how the safety of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Mosul, might be affected by the operation."