Anti-ISIS coalition sets its sights on taking Mosul

WASHINGTON • Dozens of defence and foreign ministers were set to meet in Washington yesterday and today to take stock of the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), their focus increasingly on a major prize: the militant group's bastion in Mosul, Iraq.

The battle for Mosul is expected to be difficult, but the aftermath could be tougher, Iraqi, United Nations and US officials say.

Plans are still being finalised to provide urgent humanitarian aid and restore basic services and security for residents and other displaced people.

Defence ministers of the anti- ISIS coalition were to meet at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington yesterday, followed by a joint session of foreign and defence chiefs today.

The UN is preparing for what it says will be the largest humanitarian relief operation so far this year as terrified people stream out of the path of the advancing Iraqi military and flee from the city itself.

They will need shelter, food and water, and sanitation for three to 12 months, depending on the extent of the city's destruction.

Although Iraqi and US officials have not announced a timetable for moving on the city, a senior Baghdad-based diplomat said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to advance the start of the Mosul campaign to October after the seizure of the city of Fallujah from ISIS last month.

The UN says it needs an immediate US$280 million (S$380.2 million) to begin pre-positioning supplies - tens of thousands of tents and hundreds of mobile health clinics, for example - for the expected flood of refugees.

An Iraq donor meeting of 24 countries in Washington yesterday was expected to raise more than US$2 billion, a senior State Department official told reporters on Monday.

The UN estimates that under a worst-case scenario, more than one million people could be displaced from Mosul and another 830,000 from a populated corridor south of the city, adding to the burden of caring for the Iraqis displaced by ISIS' 2014 onslaught and US-backed Iraqi counter-offensives.

When asked whether he thought ISIS would put up a strong fight in Mosul, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he expected the militants to behave as they did in Fallujah.

"In Fallujah, they threatened and vowed to fight until the last breath... Issues ended differently; some were killed, some were defeated early and some disguised as women to flee," Mr Jaafari told journalists in Washington.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Anti-ISIS coalition sets its sights on taking Mosul'. Print Edition | Subscribe