The Iraqi invasion of Mosul is expected to begin sometime this month, starting a huge battle over the largest ISIS-held city, which has a population of well over a million people. The heavily telegraphed invasion has, needless to say, been a major concern for ISIS.
And while exactly what ISIS is doing isn’t clear, the reports coming out of Mosul have showed a general trend, painting a picture of a plan built around mobility and surprise attacks, as well as limiting the ways in which the Iraqi-led invasion forces can enter the city.
Concrete embankments now ring much of the city, setting up obvious chokepoints where the ground troops entering the city can be targeted. Locals are reporting that ISIS is rigging explosive booby traps around the area, and preparing car bombs. Even the bridges within the city are rigged with explosives.
Meanwhile, Mosul has a massive tunnel system built over the last two years, unmapped by Iraqi forces, which will allow ISIS to move around the city and appear in different places. Other than targeting the most visible entrances, there are limited options for the US and Iraqi forces to blunt this advantage.
While there is also a lot of complaining about ISIS recruiting children to use as spies in the urban warfare, the reality is that one of the biggest wild cards in the battle is going to be the population of Mosul in general. A Sunni Arab city, it remains to be seen how well they’ll welcome an invasion led by the Shi’ite government, particularly after previous invasions of large Sunni cities saw them destroyed in great measure.