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TRAVEL ADVISORY – Mosul Offensive to Oust the Islamic State is Underway

Key Points:

  • The long-awaited offensive against the final Islamic State stronghold in Iraq’s second city Mosul is underway.
  • There is concern for the safety of the estimated 1 million civilians trapped in the city.

Situation Summary:
Armed Conflict: The start of the offensive against the Islamic State’s (IS) final stronghold in Iraq began in the early hours of 17 October 2016. Armed forces comprised of Iraqi, Coalition, and Kurdish Peshmerga are advancing on Mosul. So far, several villages outside of the city have already been recaptured by Kurdish forces. Advancing forces into the city are likely to be cautious, searching for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and being prepared against the threat of chemical weapons. The US are supporting the operation by conducting strategic airstrikes. It is currently unclear how long the Islamic State will resist the offensive. Due to the urban nature of this offensive, there are safety concerns for the sizable population currently trapped in the city. The Iraqi government has used media, such as radio and pamphlet drops, to advise those in the city how best to keep safe.

oct-16-mosul

Intrinsic Comment:
Mosul became a symbolically important city since it’s capture by IS in June 2014. The formation of the Islamic State caliphate was formally announced by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from this city. The retreat of the terror group therefore is equally symbolic for the Iraqi government as it will symbolise the end of the group’s dominance in the country. As forces focus on Mosul, the Islamic State have carried out a number of retaliatory suicide bombings in Baghdad. On 17 October 2016, a suicide bomber killed ten people and wounded 25 when he detonated at a checkpoint in Yusufiya.

Although a number of groups are involved in the operation, the Prime Minister has vowed only Iraqi officers will enter the majority Sunni city. Despite these coordination efforts, tensions still remain between forces due to the political instability throughout Iraq induced by sectarianism. The Mosul offensive will be an important step in eliminating the terror threat posed by the Islamic State. However, of equal importance will be the political reconstruction period post offensive. In the meantime, the operation is likely to result in a large humanitarian crisis by initiating widespread displacement. Refugee camps have been set up in order to accommodate the displaced. Agencies have requested safe exit routes to be established for Mosul residents, who will still need to be screened before entering any refugee camp.

Intrinsic Security Advice:
Risk Ratings: Iraq: Severe Mosul: Severe
As Mosul is an active military conflict zone, travel to the area should only be undertaken on an essential basis. Travellers should be well prepared for conflict zones by carrying body armour and helmets. The use of chemical weapons is a potential threat posed by the Islamic State. As the group have used chemical agents against Kurdish fighters, it is recommended persons in Mosul have access to gas masks. Intrinsic are able to provide armed security solutions, including close protection services and twenty-four hour monitoring of movements. Developments during the offensive will continue to be monitored.

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