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Competing Interests, Civilian Confusion, Conspiracy Theories and Chaos in the Assault on Mosul

Grace Wakim and Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.

While, Mosul, the last stronghold of ISIS is being assaulted, ISIS is holding the people of Mosul hostage. Many military forces are fighting their way through the city to liberate it but each is serving their own often-conflicting political agendas. All news channels and newspapers are covering the big event but different stories are being reported representing vastly differing points of view. This report delves into mainly Arabic sources on the situation. According to Reuters Arabic[1], claims are being made that ISIS is pushing back its enemies by carrying out “martyrdom” attacks. On the other hand, the Iraqi and Coalition forces declare gaining land.

MEMRI[2], The Middle East Media Research Institute, broadcasted a video made available on Youtube by an ISIS activist, calling for their adherents around the globe to support the Islamic State through media, claiming that taking on the Western and Iraqi media to defend them will be considered as an act of a “mujahid (according to ISIS a “holy” warrior) and asserting to their followers a near victory. The Terror Monitor Arabic[3], via its Twitter account, covers ISIS main news agency activities of the Amaq, and reports that ISIS has been releasing pictures of suicide bombers and statements describing their victories since the beginning of the war in Iraq.

The Iraqi forces, Peshmerga and the supporting militias are now within miles of Mosul. Sky News Arabia[4] reports that the Iraqi forces are fighting at the Eastern suburbs of the city, but the local population is still unsure if their fates will be horrific or better when liberated by whoever breaks through first. It is unclear to them what might happen in Mosul once the Iraqi forces push their way in. Mosul Eye reports people’s concerns, as well, about what might happen if the militias are to enter the city. ISIS is spreading rumors as reported by Mosul Eye [5], an Iraqi internet source, that the Iraqi military forces intend to kill and “enslave their women” once they reach Mosul. This is not idle speculation by ISIS, as a human rights worker who has been working in other liberated areas of Iraq confidentially reported in late October of 2016 to the second author, that civilians in Mosul are well aware of the disappearances, rapes, and human rights violations carried out by Shia militias overtaking liberated cities in Iraq, and Mosul residents thus fear the same, or worse, will happen to them.[6] Mosul Eye also reports that the people of Mosul are afraid of what might happen during and after the fight and speculate on captivities, executions and inconceivable violence.

One thing is for sure; Mosul will be a hub of tension especially if Turkey gets involved in the battle. According to Alhayat[7] newspaper, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, is hoping to contain the fight and keep it solely an Iraqi battle, while Almayadeen[8] newspaper reports that the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insists on having a direct role, which might escalate the tension between the two countries. Turkey’s overtly valid, but not convincing argument, for participating in the war is the claimed fear that Shia fighters might commit acts of revenge and unnecessary bloodshed fighting on Sunni land. It is true that the Middle East has a long history of fighting over differences especially sectarian ones, but Turkey’s presence might make the situation much worse. President Erdogan’s real motive likely has far more to do with asserting his personal sense of power as well as Turkey’s and as the Global Research[9] states, keeping the Kurds in check and controlling their actions. Not only does Turkey want to be part of the war on Mosul, but also of the war on Raqqa, in Syria, which is another stronghold of ISIS. It appears also that Turkey has a hidden agenda for this specific area that many are speculating upon; as an example, a striking headline of the Foreign Policy Magazine[10] explicitly reads, “ Turkey’s New Maps are Reclaiming the Ottoman Empire.”

What are the interests of each of the groups including the US led Coalition in the war on Mosul and how are these interests to be played out and understood by local populations? The answer will remain unclear until Mosul is liberated. Since there are no real plans for the subsequent fate of the city, chaos is expected by many living there. Each one of those groups will definitely be fighting to secure their interests. According to different media outlets including Tunisia-Sat forums[11] and Russia Today Arabic[12], Ankara has threatened that we might witness another wider war between factions, or even worse, a Third World War; given the powerful diverse military forces involved. Meanwhile, the people of Mosul are being captured, tortured and killed by ISIS cadres who have turned ruthless and are willing to use them to try to divert their enemies. Whether ISIS fighters decide to leave Mosul or stay and fight, the outcome may turn out disastrous for the inhabitants of this city, as well as for Syria. The center of Research on Globalization, or Global Research, argues that If ISIS decides to leave, its fighters are expected to flee through the Syrian borders to Raqqa, likely prompting Russia to militarily interfere; adding more forces to the already burning cauldron of competing interests. It is expected that ISIS may destroy Mosul before it leaves or it might adamantly decide to fight till the last breath. In any given scenario, we will surely be witnessing ruthless bloodshed as the war continues.

Nevertheless, there are some signs of resistance to ISIS on behalf of the civilians in Mosul. According to The Guardian[13], resistance against ISIS is ready to backup military forces once they enter the city. The International Business Times[14], reports that the resistance had painted the letter ‘M’ on the city walls. ‘M’ refers to the word resistance in Arabic—a clear indication of, at least, some existence of resistance.

Clearly, the aftermath of the war in Mosul is precarious and could determine the fate of the whole country. Iraqis will soon be facing tough decisions dealing with ISIS’ ideology as well as the disgruntled factions and human rights violations that will not magically disappear when the war ends. ISIS emerged for real reasons and until those political issues are well dealt with, the outside funders of proxy wars and militias are quelled and security is provided for all, extremism and violence will continue to plague both Iraq and Syria.

About the authors:

Grace Wakim, is a Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She is a native Arabic speaker and has a BA in English with a concentration in Linguistics from George Mason University. She has a background in media where she worked as a promotion producer for many years for different Arabic channels including news channels. She is interested in the study of terrorism is working toward a Masters degree in International Security. At ICSVE, Grace has been working on the ISIS Defectors Interviews Project and is a subject matter expert on the region.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She is also the author of Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS and coauthor of ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate; Undercover Jihadi and Warrior Princess. Dr. Speckhard has interviewed nearly 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and many countries in Europe. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles.

Reference for this paper: Wakim, Grace & Speckhard, Anne (November 3, 2016) Competing Interests, Civilian Confusion, Conspiracy Theories and Chaos in the Assault on Mosul ICSVE Brief Report http://www.icsve.




[1] الدولة الإسلامية تتصدى للجيش العراقي جنوبي الموصل| أخبار الشرق الأوسط| Reuters. (2016). Retrieved 26 October 2016.

[2] Germany-Based Syrian Activist Malik Fndy, Previously Arrested For Posting Pro-ISIS Videos, Calls On Like-Minded Activists To Take To The Media In Support Of ISIS In Mosul. (2016). MEMRI – The Middle East Media Research Institute. Retrieved 30 October 2016.

[3] #TerrorMonitor hashtag on Twitter. (2016). Retrieved 31 October 2016, from

[4] القوات العراقية تسيطر على مبنى التلفزيون بالموصل. 2016). Sky News Arabia. Retrieved 1 November 2016.

[5] The daily situation in Mosul – Oct. 25, 2016. (2016). Mosul Eye. Retrieved 23 October 2016.

[6] Personal communication to Anne Speckhard by a human rights worker in Iraq, October 31, 2016

[7] العبادي يرفض مساهمة تركيا في معركة الموصل. (2016). Alhayat. Retrieved 24 October 2016.

[8] العبادي: تركيا تحاول التفريق بين العراقيين. (2016). قناة الميادين. Retrieved October 2016.

[9] Shilton, J. (2016). Mosul Offensive Threatens To Inflame Sectarian Conflicts In Iraq And Syria. Global Research. Retrieved 23 October 2016.

[10] Danforth, N. (2016). Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming the Ottoman Empire. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 24 October 2016, from

[11] خبر عالمي – أنقرة: معركة الموصل قد تتحول إلى حرب عالمية ثالثة!. (2016). منتديات تونيزيـا سات. Retrieved 24 October 2016.

[12] أنقرة: معركة الموصل قد تتحول إلى حرب عالمية ثالثة!. (2016). RT Arabic. Retrieved 24 October 2016.

[13] Chulov, M. (2016). Anti-Isis resistance group plans to rise up in Mosul, say residents. the Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2016.

[14] Persio, S. (2016). What is happening inside Isis-controlled Mosul. International Business Times UK. Retrieved 24 October 2016.

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