Despite the rapid collapse of Iraqi forces in Mosul, the ethnic patchwork of towns around the city are desperately banding together to build their own defensive line in preparation for more ISIS attacks. With northern Iraq emptied of most government security forces, and ISIS attempting to consolidate its gains and preparing its next move, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have advanced into several of the areas not yet under ISIS control.
Here are developing events on the ground west of Mosul, according to security officials and locals in the area who spoke with The Daily Beast.
As towns west of Mosul have been cut off from Baghdad and bypassed by ISIS, an improvised line of defense between Kurdish, Yezidi, Turcoman, and Arab communities is forming from Duhok south to Sinjar mountain and east to Tal Afar.
In a desperate bid, an Iraqi Border Patrol battalion stationed along the Syrian border in Anbar province, abandoned their position yesterday to break out to the relative safety of nearby Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The Iraqi unit fled to the town of Sinjar believing that ISIS had made no gains there. But the convoy of sixty trucks and hundreds of border police were thrown into disarray and panic when a small force of ISIS vehicles attacked them en route. By the time Peshmerga forces arrived, the police force had been completely routed—unknown numbers were killed or captured, while others fled into the desert leaving all their vehicles behind. Two were reported to have arrived at Sinjar on foot. The border is said to be completely open south of Sinjar but the Peshmerga are reportedly attempting to construct a barrier south of Sinjar to prevent further ISIS incursions.
In the wake of the catastrophic collapse of Iraqi forces in Mosul, Kurdish Peshmerga have moved decisively into positions west of the city to prevent more war material from falling into the hands of ISIS. The only road from the Kurdish city of Duhok, north of Mosul, to Sinjar, west of the city, has been opened with the Peshmerga now occupying the Sunni Arab town of Rabiah on the Syrian border. An unknown number of Syrian Kurdish forces from the PYD, a Syrian Kurdish party, reportedly crossed the border into Iraq in a show of solidarity with their Kurdish brethren against their common enemy ISIS.
Residents of Tal Afar are reporting that a large number of the Iraqi forces who deserted from Mosul were Turcoman Shia who made their way west back to their hometown of Tal Afar. Many have augmented local police to establish a city defense force in preparation for an attack by ISIS. Peshmerga forces contacted Tal Afar’s mayor and requested he relinquish the heavy weaponry under his control to prevent it from falling into the hands of ISIS if the city capitulated, but the mayor refused and told them the city would manage its own security. The forces at Tal Afar also took control of the city’s airport—known as FOB Sykes when US forces controlled it—and secured the helicopters stationed there, maintaining a vital air link with Baghdad. While they have a working relationship, the leadership in Tal Afar is reportedly not willing to trust the Peshmerga with the defense of their city and its neighboring villages.
The Peshmerga have also seized the Iraqi base known as Al Kasik located between Mosul and Tal Afar after the Iraqi Army fled, to prevent more war material from winding up in the hands of ISIS. Iraqi Army humvees recovered by the Peshmerga are immediately being moved north, repainted with Kurdish insignia, and entering the Peshmerga’s inventory.
Meanwhile in western Mosul, a frightened calm has fallen over the city as citizens mostly stayed in their homes and businesses remained closed. ISIS forces within the city have setup checkpoints, but are leaving local citizens mostly unmolested. One resident reported a sociable encounter with an ISIS checkpoint manned by 15 fighters, all young men in their twenties, in possession of two Iraqi Army trucks. Of the fifteen, he reported only one with an Iraqi accent. The rest of the ISIS group spoke the formal Arab dialect of a non-native speaker, indicating they were mostly likely not even Arabs, let alone Iraqi, according to the source. He described their appearance as ‘Afghani’, a common Iraqi epithet for unidentified non-Arab Muslims from southern and central Asia, or those who dress like them. Those who could speak Arabic bragged of being in possession of supplies and equipment from the US and Saudi Arabia, possibly acquired from supplies these countries intended for more moderate rebel groups in Syria.