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Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi versus Mahdi Gharawi: An Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) force under al-Bilawi looks to seize Iraq’s second largest city with a sudden combined arms attack from Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) under Gharawi, comprising the Army’s 2nd Division and National Police’s 3rd Division. Will the fragile ISF stand up to their greatest test since the United States’ withdrawal? Also known as the Fall of Mosul. ISIS is also known as the Islamic State (IS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Daesh.
It would be unfair to speculate what the long-term historical significance of a battle that occurred not even two years ago alongside the other battles featured on this site. It is sometimes difficult to assess even the significance of battles such as Zama, Yarmuk, Lepanto, Poltava, Waterloo, the Marne, France in the longue durée of history. What is safe to say is that the Fall of Mosul has been the most decisive and important military engagement in the last two years. This battle represents the rise of ISIS, a story that has dominated geo-politics and discourse not just in the West but in the Middle East, Russia, and North Africa. At this point in time, this battle has further fragmented the already unstable Middle East and drawn the United States and its allies back into military conflict in the region. It is possible that this battle’s result will turn out to be one of those momentous battles that set so many other historical events and processes in motion. It is also possible that this battle’s result will end up being viewed in the same way scores of early victories of short-lived caliphates, empires, and Reichs seem today, simply a tactical victory, a simple aberration in history.
This section often focuses on analyzing and answering the most important question to understand the battle. The Fall of Mosul’s obvious question is how the Iraqi Army could suffer such a military and political disaster. But is that the most important question here? Is it really so surprising that the Iraqi Army failed its most important test in 2014? This is the same army that was decisively defeated in 1991, suffered the deprivations of a decade of punitive economic sanctions on an already underdeveloped economy, was decisively defeated again in 2003, disbanded, rebuilt in the image of an army of a highly economic developed state by a foreign power with questionable motives, fought a brutal civil war lasting another decade, then suddenly lost the combat support of the foreign power it depends on? Was there another possible outcome against a highly organized, aggressive, tactically adept enemy that has infiltrated the populace the army and government has long alienated? Long before the United States and its allies withdrew the vast majority of their combat units, who actually expected the Iraqi Army to perform well against its enemies once this support disappeared? The real question worth answering is why any observers expected anything else.
For its part, ISIS executed a highly successful attack to seize a large city using relatively few forces. The ISIS attack was a textbook example of a dispersed attack, characterized by simultaneous attack by multiple action forces, disruption of effective command and control (C2), and isolation of enemy combat units (CTID, 2014: 5). While the actual tactical actions and units (SVBIEDs, technicals, etc.) may seem unconventional, ISIS use of task-organized forces is in line with other modern armies.
Animating this battle is a response to the constant requests I receive for more modern battles. I hope the site’s format does justice to a contemporary, extremely pertinent battle to recent military history.
This animation was researched using only unclassified, open sources. I strongly recommend the CTID Threat Tactics series available on the U.S. Army’s https://publicintelligence.net.
– Jonathan Webb
Abbas, Yasir and Dan Trombly. “Inside the Collapse of the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Division.” War on the Rocks. Jul. 1, 2014. http://warontherocks.com/2014/07/inside-the-collapse-of-the-iraqi-armys-2nd-division/ (accessed Mar. 1, 2016).
Complex Operational Environment and Threat Integration Directorate (CTID). “Threat Tactics Report: Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” TRADOC G-2 Intelligence Support Activity (TRISA). Nov. 2014. https://publicintelligence.net/usarmy-trisa-isil/ (accessed Mar. 8, 2016).
Dunlop, W.G. and Karim Abou Merhi. “Iraq inquiry finds officials grossly mismanaged Mosul crisis.” Yahoo! News. Aug. 19, 2015. https://www.yahoo.com/news/iraq-officials-disastrously-mismanaged-mosul-crisis-inquiry-100249710.html?ref=gs (accessed Mar. 8, 2016).
Institute for the Study of War. “Recent Chronology of the Fall of Mosul.” Jun. 10, 2014. http://iswresearch.blogspot.ca/2014/06/recent-chronology-of-fall-of-mosul.html (accessed Mar. 8, 2016).
Lewis, Jessica and Ahmed Ali. “The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham Captures Mosul and Advances toward Baghdad.” Institute for the Study of War. Jun. 11, 2014. http://iswresearch.blogspot.ca/2014/06/the-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-al-sham.html (accessed Mar. 8, 2016).
Parker, Ned, Isabel Coles and Raheem Salman. “Special Report: How Mosul fell – An Iraqi general disputes Baghdad’s story.” Reuters. Oct. 14, 2014. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-gharawi-special-report-idUSKCN0I30Z820141014 (accessed Mar. 8, 2016).
Reese, Aaron and the ISW Iraq Team. “ISIS Launches Major Multi-Front Assault.” Institute for the Study of War. Jun. 7, 2014. http://iswresearch.blogspot.ca/2014/06/isis-launches-major-multi-front-assault.html (accessed Mar. 8, 2016).
Sly, Liz and Ahmed Ramadan. “Insurgents seize Iraqi city of Mosul as security forces flee.” The Washington Post. Jun. 10, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/insurgents-seize-iraqi-city-of-mosul-as-troops-flee/2014/06/10/21061e87-8fcd-4ed3-bc94-0e309af0a674_story.html?hpid=z1 (accessed Mar. 8, 2016).
Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Abdulrahman_al-Bilawi
Iraqi Security Forces soldiers: http://www.armyrecognition.com/october_2014_global_defense_security_news_uk/iraqi_security_forces_to_progress_in_the_fighting_against_militants_of_islamic_state_of_iraq_3010142.html
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria soldiers: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/driveon/2015/10/09/toyota-isis/73621844/
Mahdi Gharawi: http://www.noonpost.net/content/4005
Map of Iraq: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraqi_Civil_War_(2014%E2%80%93present)
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
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