Leader comment: Pushing IS out of territory will not end bloodshed

So the Iraqi army has begun the push into west Mosul, the Islamic State's last stronghold in the country. Yesterday Iraqi special forces began an operation involving thousands of soldiers and backed by air strikes from United States aircraft.

Tanks and armoured vehicles of the Iraqi forces, supported by the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries, advance towards the village of Sheikh Younis, south of Mosul, after the offensive to retake the western side of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) group fighters commenced. Picture AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi forces retook the eastern side of the city last month but all the bridges across the Tigris have been destroyed and the move has got to come from forces in the West and not already in the city. The older part of Mosul has narrow streets and many buildings and as ever street fighting is likely to be intense, lengthy and very destructive.

Already there have been fears voiced for the civilians who are still trapped in the city with some reports saying it could be as many as 650,000, with 350,000 of those children. It does not look good for them. Last month the UN said that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians with at least 1,096 killed.

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It will be a slow and terrible process, many will die, but Iraqi government forces with the support of the other nations helping them, will regain control of Iraq’s second biggest city. It will then take years to rebuild, but it will not be the end of the bloodshed.

In the past week there have been three suicide bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, killing at least 48 people. In the latest a car bomb went off in the Shia area of Bayaa in the south of the city. The attack was claimed by IS, saying it targeted “a gathering of Shias”.

This is perhaps a glimpse of what will lie ahead in both Iraq and Syria. Because the other major conquest for Islamic State was within the borders of Syria, and there too, with the massive help of Russia, particularly her airpower, Islamic State are also getting pushed back, with Aleppo almost falling and the assualt on the IS capital of Raqqa under way. The bizarre fundamentalists of IS can see they are being pushed back and they will lose their territories.

It looks like Islamic State will soon be without any land to call its own, as movements in Libya and Yemen are also going against them.

It has been suggested that the defining difference between IS and other Muslim terror organisations like Boko Haram is that IS’s sole reason for existence is that it believes in the establishment of the caliphate, and if that does not exist then neither will IS.

But the experience of Baghdad would suggest otherwise. It was also the experience in Afghanistan that after the west invaded the Taleban did begin an insurgency war.

President Donald Trump said yesterday, while addressing a rally in Florida, that a plan would be developed to “totally destroy” Islamic State. He did not of course go in to detail, but he did not make it clear which Islamic State was going to be destroyed, the one already being kicked off the land it had so brutally grabbed in pursuit of its goals, or the one that is certain to come after and strike from the shadows using suicide bombers, because a plan to eradicate that threat is the one we are going to need in the not-so-distant future.

Tragically that threat only gets greater as Islamic State get defeated in their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.