Iraqi forces in Ninevah eye the ultimate prize: Mosul

By Mohammed A. Salih for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Almost four months into the launch of the Ninevah Liberation Operation, Iraqi forces managed to secure a major gain July 9 by capturing the strategic Qayyarah air base in the southern countryside of Ninevah province. The victory is expected to invigorate the Iraqi offensive in this key northern province, the location of Mosul, the largest city controlled by the Islamic State (IS).

The Ninevah offensive, which began in late March, has been largely characterized by slow progress and has at times appeared stalled, such as when the Iraqi forces struggled to capture al-Nasr, a village near Makhmur, during the first couple of months of the operation. The victory in Qayyarah will bring strategic benefit to the several layers of the Iraqi security forces and their local Sunni tribal allies by helping facilitate the delivery of military and logistical supplies via the air base.

“It is an important, strategic air base, and we will use it in the future as a major base for operations in the area,” Gen. Firas Bashar, the head of media relations at the Ninevah Operations Command, told Al-Monitor. “This was also a major base used by IS for recruiting and training purposes and a launch site for operations.”

By controlling the air base and the surrounding area, the Iraqis are now also in control of the road linking Mosul to the IS-held territories of Shirqat and Hawija, in Salahuddin and Kirkuk provinces, respectively. The Qayyarah facility, previously called Saddam Air Base, was captured by Iraqi forces led by the elite counterterrorism and army units approaching from the direction of Salahuddin province, to the south, Bashar said.

Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy specializing in Iraqi military and security affairs, told Al-Monitor that Qayyarah will give the US-led coalition a base that “can easily be fortified and developed to hold US artillery and most importantly helicopters.”

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