ISIS boss al-Baghdadi ‘trapped’ in Mosul as Iraqi army gears up for takeover – reports

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. © AFP
Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the second most-wanted terrorist in the world, has been hiding in the group’s besieged stronghold of Mosul, encircled by the Iraqi army and allied militias, a senior Kurdish commander told the Independent.

In an interview on Wednesday, Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Iraqi Kurdistan’s head, Massoud Barzani, said that, though he has been lying low for the past eight or nine months, Baghdadi is most likely still alive and in the city.

“Baghdadi is there and, if he is killed, it will mean the collapse of the whole [IS] system,” Hussein argued, pointing to the vulnerability of Islamic State’s (IS, ISIS/ISIL) command structure, which has no suitable replacement for Baghdadi. According to Hussein, IS’ leader has had to completely rely on other terrorist commanders in Mosul and the nearby city of Tal Afar, a largely Turkmen-populated city in the Nineveh Province.

While Hussein believes that Baghdadi’s demise will speed efforts to retake the country, his presence in the IS’ self-proclaimed capital in Iraq may result in the jihadists resorting to desperate tactics to protect their kingpin.

“It is obvious that they will lose, but not how long this will take to happen,” he said, adding that the timeline of the battle for Mosul will be determined by several variables.

One such factor is whether the jihadists manage to blow up the five bridges over the Tigris River to cut Iraqi troops off from the western part of the city. So far, Iraqi special forces have managed to enter Mosul from the east for the first time since it was overrun by jihadists in 2014.

READ MORE: ISIS leader was secretly held in notorious Abu Ghraib torture prison - report

On Tuesday, soldiers from Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service (CST) seized control of the state television station in the Gogjali neighborhood, making it the first major building in the city to be recaptured from IS.

“This is a good sign for the people of Mosul, because the battle to liberate Mosul has effectively begun,” Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati said, as cited by Reuters. 

Supported by Kurdish and Shiite militias and backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, the Iraqi army has achieved major progress, particularly on the eastern flank.

“We are currently fighting battles on the eastern outskirts of Mosul,” CTS Lieutenant-General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi said, adding that elite forces under his command have pushed jihadists out of another eastern district.

However, despite the apparent gains, further advances into the city may come at a heavy price. Russia’s Defense Ministry has warned both the coalition forces and the Iraqi army that mass civilian casualties could result if they keep advancing towards the residential areas of the heavily populated city, pointing out that the it lacks humanitarian corridors for people to escape.

“We are hearing reports about an upcoming storming of residential areas populated by civilians that are murky, but extremely alarming, given the mass casualties that could result,” the ministry’s spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

READ MORE: Storming Mosul’s residential areas will likely result in mass casualties, Russian MoD warns