Mosul, A New Textbook Case For Urban Warfare

Soldier in Mosul on July 8
Soldier in Mosul on July 8
Alain Barluet


To win back Mosul, the Iraqi armed forces paid with their blood. But the difficult victory — obtained with the help of the international coalition — also marks a rebirth. Against all odds, the Iraqi army, federal police and anti-terror units have all been successfully rebuilt.

Back in 2014, the Iraqi troops had fallen back rather pitifully in Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul in the face of a blitzkrieg by the Islamic State, or ISIS. Three years later, the same forces — but tougher — managed to retake the group's "capital," even though the numbers were not necessarily in their favor. Some 100,000 men were recruited to cordon off the city, but only 20,000 actually took part in the fighting inside Mosul, against about 5,000 jihadists, a ratio of one defender to four attackers. In urban fighting, the ratio should generally be at least one to six, sometimes even one to 10, in order to win.

The boldness of the Iraqi armed forces was particularly evident when they breached the defenses of ISIS on the eastern bank of the Tigris after having surrounded the city (which in 2009 had nearly three million inhabitants) last November. The clearing phase now underway on the river's west bank will continue for some time, as troops sweep building after building, looking for booby traps and possible remaining isolated fighters.

All eyes are now on Raqqa.

The battle of Mosul, which lasted close to nine months, will remain emblematic of urban warfare. Like the shorter battle of Stalingrad in 1942-1943 (six-and-a-half-months), considered the "mother" of urban battles, Madrid (1936), or Hué, in Vietnam (1968), the battle of Mosul will be carefully studied in war academies. It brought together, like rarely before, traditional war methods and high technology, basic tactics and operational innovations. Because cities have become crucial in asymmetric warfare, urban areas represent the "ultimate battlefield," as French army officials Frédéric Chamaud and Pierre Santoni write in their recent book.

In Mosul, the Iraqi armed forces also rediscovered some urban warfare "classics," such as frontline defense, capturing anchor points, snipers, booby traps and house to house warfare. But at the same time, they have had to face new challenges that are sure to leave their mark on future fighting, such as the use of drones coupled with suicide vehicles, already used by ISIS in the battles of Ramadi (February 2016) and Fallujah (June 2016), though on a lesser scale. Not to mention the underground tunnels.

All eyes are now on Raqqa, ISIS" stronghold in Syria, where some 2,500 jihadists are entrenched. In early June, breaches in the city's fortifications enabled the Syrian Democratic Forces to gain control of several districts, with heavy support from the Americans.

Raqqa is a smaller urban battlefield than Mosul (an estimated 100,000 civilians remain in the Syrian city, down from 220,000 in 2012), and ISIS is using the same combat methods with the same forceful resistance.

But the lessons from Mosul cannot be directly transposed to Raqqa. With the battlefield's confined space and narrow alleyways (making air support extremely difficult), along with an unknown level of preparation and motivation of the Syrian Democratic Forces and an extremely determined defense, it would be unwise to venture a prediction of when ISIS will be defeated in its Syrian stronghold.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!