In Brief

UK 'risks repeating Libya mistakes in Mosul'

Tory MP Crispin Blunt says lessons learned after 2011 assault should form basis of future foreign policy

The UK has failed to learn key lessons from the invasion of Libya and could be about to repeat the same mistakes in Iraq, a cross-party group of MPs warns.

Crispin Blunt, the Tory chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, says the government has made a "troubling" response to its report on the disastrous aftermath of the 2011 intervention, which the group delivered in September. 

Since the UK and French-led coalition attacks five years ago, Libya has descended into violence, with rival governments fighting each other, says the BBC.

The committee's report pointed the finger at then-prime minister David Cameron, saying he had been ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent strategy for the country.

It added that UK policy in Libya was based on "erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence" and blamed ministers for failing to predict the rise of extremist groups, including Islamic State [IS], in the vacuum created by the fall of leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The UK is now supporting strikes on Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and an IS stronghold, and Blunt warns the future of the region could be in danger after the terror group is defeated.

The government has "yet to appreciate the lessons from our experience in Libya, including our lack of country knowledge amongst those drafting and deciding policy", said the former army officer.

"This is troubling, because Libya should inform the development of future UK foreign policy," he added.

"The failure of the stabilisation, including an appreciation of the scale of the task, should have engendered a robust process of self-examination in government to improve future performance.

"I believe we are about to repeat the failure to have adequate plans and resources for stabilisation in Mosul. Libya should have taught us these lessons."  

Iraq: Islamic State leader urges militants to fight to the death

3 November

The leader of Islamic State has called on militants to defend Mosul in what is believed to be his first public message for nearly a year.

In an audiotape released by the terror group, a voice said to be that of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi says: "Holding your ground with honour is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame. Do not retreat. This total war and the great jihad only increased our firm belief, God willing, and our conviction that this is all a prelude to victory."

He also demands IS sympathisers attack other countries and says suicide bombers should "turn the nights of the unbelievers into days, to wreak havoc in their land and make their blood flow as rivers".

However, there is no independent verification that the voice on the tape belongs to Baghdadi, whose whereabouts remain unknown. Some officials say he may be inside Mosul alongside IS fighters, but there have long been rumours of his death, says the BBC.

Iraqi forces entered Mosul, the last IS stronghold in Iraq, this week. Baghdadi declared it a caliphate two years ago.

Up to 5,000 IS fighters are estimated to be inside Mosul but the outcome of the battle - against "tens of thousands of Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led coalition and its warplanes" - appears to be in "little doubt", says The Guardian.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed to "cut the snake's head", declaring on state television: "[IS] will have no way out and no way to escape... Either they die, or surrender."

Iraqi forces enter Mosul to drive out Islamic State

2 November

Iraqi forces have announced a milestone in the fight to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS), after they entered the city for the first time since 2014.

Baghdad's elite troops have created a "toe-hold in the Jdeidet al-Mufti neighbourhood after two weeks of combat", but are still facing stiff resistance from IS militants, says The Guardian.

"This is a good sign for the people of Mosul because the battle to liberate Mosul has effectively begun," said Lt Gen Talib Shaghati, a senior Iraqi general.

Troops entered Gogjali, a neighbourhood in Mosul, on Tuesday and by midday were under a mile away from one of the more built-up districts, Karama.

Iraqi forces have also seized key buildings during the fighting, including a state TV office in Kukjali.

IS has reportedly suffered at least one high-profile casualty, according to Iraqi News. "The IS Operations Official, Abu Yakoub, was killed along with one of his aides, in clashes with Iraqi joint forces at al-Shallalat district, which the security forces invaded on Tuesday," it said. Police regiments are now preparing to control the liberated areas in the city.

The presence of government troops inside the city will "likely trigger the fiercest fighting seen yet in the offensive", says CNN, with skirmishes expected to be "street to street or even house to house".

Iraqi PM tells Islamic State: Surrender or die

1 November

Iraq's Prime Minister has told Islamic State to "surrender or die" as the country's special forces prepare to enter Mosul and sweep out the militants.

"We will close in on Daesh [IS] from all angles and, God willing, we will cut the snake's head," Haider al-Abadi said on state television, wearing combat fatigues. "They will have no way out and no way to escape... Either they die, or surrender."

The army swept into the last village on the city's eastern edge yesterday. Armoured vehicles drew fire from mortars and small arms as they moved on the village of Bazwaya while artillery and air strikes hit IS positions, reports Al Jazeera.

Fighting stopped within hours and the units took up positions less than a mile from Mosul's eastern border and about five miles from the centre.

"We will enter the city of Mosul soon and liberate it from Daesh," said Brigadier General Haider Fadhil of Iraq's special forces. He added that more than 20 IS fighters had been killed while his troops suffered only one light injury.

Government troops also destroyed three suicide car bombers trying to stop the advance before the army took control of Bazwaya, said Fadhil.

State television describes the operation as a "battle of honour" to take the city. According to reports, residents hung white flags on buildings and windows as a sign they would not resist government troops. Mosul has been in IS hands since 2014

Iraqi Christians celebrate first mass in two years

Iraqi Christians displaced by Islamic State's brutal occupation are returning to the Mosul area following a major push to recapture Iraq's second largest city.

Upwards of 100,000 Iraqi Christians fled to the Kurdish-controlled east as IS fighters poured into northern and western Iraq in August 2014.

Those who remained in the militants' path faced a stark choice: pay a "tax" to be left unmolested, convert to Islam or die. 

Two years on, some of those who escaped are now embarking on a cautious but hopeful return to their homeland.

In the town of Qaraqosh, 20 miles south-east of Mosul, a congregation gathered at the burnt-out Church of the Immaculate Conception to hold their first mass since 2014.

Most were members of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), a local Christian militia that has been joining the battle to retake Mosul, says Gulf News.

Militia fighter Samer Shabaoun said the mass was a testament to the resilience of the Christian minority, which has had to cope with the uncertainty and violence of the power chasm following the Iraq war.

"They used everything against us: they shot at us, they sent car bombs, suicide attackers. Despite all this, we're here," he said.

Church bells rang from the partially destroyed church for the first time in two years, Reuters reports. From behind an improvised altar, Archbishop of Mosul Boutros Moshe told worshippers: "Today Qaraqosh is free of Daesh."

Such a scene would have been unthinkable just a few weeks previously, before a coalition of Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish forces launched a large-scale operation aimed at driving IS fighters from Mosul. If successful, IS's only remaining stronghold will be Raqqa in Syria. 

Qaraqosh, which sits in the plains surrounding the ancient biblical city of Nineveh, is one of several towns that have already been liberated in the battle for Mosul.

However, not all those who fled can overcome the memories of the persecution and fear they experienced in the summer of 2014. "We can't fall into the same hole twice," Khalid Ramzi, a Christian now living in the Kurdish town of Irbil, told the Washington Post. "Only in our dreams can we go back to Mosul."

What happens if Islamic State flees Iraq?

19 October

The EU's security commissioner has warned of the threat to Europe posed by Islamic State militants fleeing Mosul.

"The retaking of the IS's northern Iraq territory, Mosul, may lead to the return to Europe of violent IS fighters," Julian King said. "This is a very serious threat and we must be prepared to face it."

Some 2,500 EU nationals are currently fighting alongside IS militants. While the commissioner said it was "very unlikely there would be a mass exodus of IS fighters to Europe", he added: "I don't want to talk the risk down. Even a small number constitutes a threat."

King's warning comes as US President Barack Obama praised the Iraqi operations to liberate Mosul as a "major step forward" and said he was confident Islamic State would be defeated.

What happens next?

The question of what will happen to the nearly 5,000 IS fighters believed to remain in Mosul has become increasingly pressing as Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by the US, France and others, continue to advance on the jihadists' stronghold.

Locals inside the city told the Daily Telegraph that scores of fighters have escaped in recent weeks.

"They wait until night and leave by car. They are going to al-Ba'aj to the west of Mosul, then on to the Iraq-Syria border, where they continue to Syria and Turkey," said one .

Last week, reports indicated the US may attempt to limit civilian casualties by not completely encircling the city and allowing the fighters an escape route towards the Syrian border.

Should that happen, the jihadists "will either join the fight against President Bashar al-Assad's forces or travel on to Turkey or Europe", says the Telegraph's Josie Ensor.

Robert Fisk, in The Independent, says a defeat in Mosul may encourage IS to head west to try to overturn the Assad regime in Syria – a scenario that "might cause some satisfaction in Washington", he says.

He adds: "The real purpose behind the much-trumpeted US-planned 'liberation', the Syrian military suspect, is to swamp Syria with the hordes of IS fighters."

Not over yet

Despite Obama's confidence, analysts believe the fall of Mosul will not signal the end of IS.

"As it has suffered on the battlefield in recent months, the group has begun signaling that a drastic contraction or even a failure of its territorial proto-state would not spell defeat," says Anne Bernard in the New York Times.

Kyle Orton, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, believes the group is deliberately giving up its caliphate.

French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he believed the militants were most likely to retreat to their Syrian bastion of Raqqa and it was vital to consider how to retake that city too.

"We can't let Islamic State reconstitute itself or strengthen to create an even more dangerous hub," he said.

Battle for Mosul 'ahead of schedule'

18 October

Iraqi troops are "ahead of schedule" on the second day of the biggest military action in Iraq since the US withdrew in 2011, says the Pentagon.

Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces are trying to push Islamic State out of Mosul, the country's second-largest city, with the support of artillery and air strikes by the US-led coalition.

The city is now the terror group's last stronghold in Iraq after being captured in 2014.     

According to Sky News, Kurdish Peshmerga retook nearly 80sq miles of territory on the first day of fighting. However, suicide bombers, roadside IEDs and oil fires slowed the advance.

IS fighters targeted at least five car bombs at the approaching troops, says the New York Times, and lit fires in an attempt to create smoke and stop air strikes from being accurately targeted.

Some 2,000 Iraqi special forces are being supported by four brigades of the regular Iraqi army, 15,000 Sunni militia, 15,000 Kurdish Peshmerga and a "few thousand" Shia militia, Sky says.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said this morning that the campaign will still "take some time" because it remains to be seen whether IS forces will "stand and fight" or simply withdraw.

According to Nick Paton Walsh of CNN, IS showed yesterday it is "very willing to put up a fight". The first 24 hours of the campaign were characterised by "intense gunfire and suicide bombings", he said. 

The journalist, who is with Kurdish forces approaching Mosul, added troops had encountered less resistance than they had been expecting.

So far, the fighting has taken place only in the villages on the outskirts of Mosul. CNN says the coalition is expected to encounter "fierce resistance from thousands of IS fighters in Mosul's urban centre".

According to the NYT, only "half" of roughly ten villages encircled by the advancing allies had been fully cleared by this morning. The process of combing the villages looking for IS fighters is "painstaking and potentially dangerous", adds the newspaper.

What lies ahead is a "monumental challenge", it continues. Mosul is a city of more than one million, with as many as 4,500 IS troops defending it.

Battle for Mosul: Iraqi forces launch attack on Islamic State

17 October

Iraqi troops and their allies advanced on the city of Mosul early this morning as they began their long-awaited operation to eject Islamic State from its last stronghold in the country.

"Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh [IS]," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on state television.

Tens of thousands of leaflets have been dropped on the city by Iraqi aircraft, warning of the impending attack and urging locals to leave or take cover.

However, humanitarian groups fear many residents are being used as human shields, reports Al Jazeera.

"Isis has banned residents from leaving Mosul on pain of death," says The Times. "All routes out have been blocked and the use of mobile phones forbidden."

The fight for control of the city is "expected to last weeks, if not months", says CNN, "and if the battles to wrest Falluja and Ramadi from Isis' grip are indicators, Mosul will be a messy melee."

The aim is to kill or capture the militants. Troops plan to "encircle the city", says the New York Times, and are "seeking to cut it off and prevent Islamic State fighters from fleeing, particularly west into Syria".

On Sunday, the terrorist group lost control of the symbolically important Syrian town of Dabiq, which was liberated by Turkish Peshmerga. 

IS holds more territory in Syria, but its defeat yesterday is viewed as a huge blow and the preface to a major assault on its de facto capital, Raqqa, later this year.

The small town is "strategically, not a major prize", however it holds "great value for IS because of a prophecy of an apocalyptic battle", the BBC reports.

A 1,300-year-old "hadith" - teaching - by one of the prophet Mohammed's companions, Abu Hurayrah, predicts a great battle between a Muslim army and a force of non-believers in Dabiq and "has become a fundamental part of Isis's ideological self-justification", says The Independent.

The prophecy also features heavily in the group's propaganda and the town lends its name to IS's online English-language magazine.

Leaders sought to downplay the town's significance in recent months and stepped back from suggesting the battle for Dabiq would herald the apocalypse. Now the group is arguing its fight against Turkish-backed rebels is not the one in the prophecy.

Peshmerga fighters are also part of the 30,000-strong Iraqi-led force fighting in Mosul.

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