Islamic State will soon lose their last foothold in Iraq to pro-government forces – and will then be ejected from their Syrian headquarters of Raqqa, says Col Tim Collins.
IS seized the second largest Iraqi city Mosul during a rapid offensive in June 2014, but Monday marked the start of a pro-government assault to retake the city from the terror group.
About 30,000 pro-government troops are facing some 6,000 IS fighters in Mosul.
As Lieutenant Colonel (Commanding Officer) of the 1st Battalion, RIR, Collins gave a headline grabbing eve-of-battle speech to his troops before the invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein in 2003.
He is now CEO of security training organisation New Century, which has been active in Iraq.
Col Collins told the News Letter that “subversive” groups will try and use many of the 1.5m civilians in Mosul as human shields.
While Save the Children called for a safe corridor for fleeing civilians, the Iraqi government instead urged civilians to put up white flags on their homes.
The reason, Mr Collins said, is that when pro-government forces retook Ramadi and Falluja from IS, subversives hid among the civilians and escaped.
“But remember the only effective defence that they have at their disposal is the civilian population – and they will use it.
“This is a sect whose ideology is based on the end of the world, so killing people really doesn’t matter to them.
“IS divides into three main groups. Hard-core Islamic fighters and their foreign fighter elements, former Iraqi army Sunnis who served with Saddam Hussein in the Baath party, and Sunni Arab tribes who have been caught up in the strike because they object to the Shia-led government.
“The tribesmen will fade away pretty quickly. A lot of the Baathists would be – at the youngest – in their late 30s, 40s and 50s. They will probably stay put and the foreign fighters – some will try and escape and some will fight.”
This battle is important in that it is Iraq’s second major city which fell “by accident” to IS.
“IS were astonished that they took control of it – only because the [Iraqi] army division which was guarding it ran away.
“It is significant in that it is the last foothold of the Islamic State in Iraq. When Mosul is retaken they will be completely contained within Syria and mainly around their so-called capital of Raqqa.
“So this is really one of the last main pillars of the Islamic State about to fall.”
He added: “Will the Islamic State cease to function with the fall of Mosul? No, but it is a significant setback.”
There is “no doubt” that IS will be expelled from Mosul and subsequently from their Syrian headquarters of Raqqa, he said.
But “the jury is out” on how long it will take and what civilian casualties might be.
British forces are on the periphery supporting and training Iraqi and Kurdish militia, and UK Special Forces may be on hand to guide coalition air strikes.
It is “too early” to make a judgment on the west’s involvement in Iraq but the lack of a post-invasion plan so far means it “probably hasn’t been a good thing”.
However, this was far beyond the remit of soldiers who helped depose Saddam Hussein, he added.