Damaged aircraft hangars and twisted metal are scattered across Tal Afar airport, to the south of the city, and tunnels have been dug in several locations. Graffiti praising the Islamic State (IS) and posters of martyrs and Shiite religious figures are plastered on the walls of the airport buildings.
On Nov. 16, the mostly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) took the destroyed air base from IS and pushed on to seal off Mosul, meeting up with the peshmerga forces on the northern axis on Nov. 23 and agreeing to coordinate with them on that front.
In the areas west and southwest of Mosul, the PMUs are the only active Iraqi force. According to Abu Taha al-Nasseri, the division commander, the battle took six hours and resulted in only three deaths among PMU fighters, despite the vast destruction at the airport.
Nasseri told Al-Monitor during a visit Nov. 20 that 15 enemy fighters had also been killed and that no air support had been provided by the international coalition. Incoming fire from IS-held territory continued while Al-Monitor was there.
In the preceding weeks, Al-Monitor had had the chance to visit some of the PMUs near the front lines as they progressed northward.
During an Oct. 31 briefing to a small group of reporters near the front line in Zargah, southwest of Mosul and 342 kilometers (212 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Badr Organization chief Hadi al-Amiri said that he “thanked God” that they had not received any air support from the Americans. “We had enough with the invasion of Iraq [in 2003].”
The Badr Organization was originally founded in 1983 and operated in exile in Iran until the regime of Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003. During that time, it received funding and training from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.