A major international news outlet has confirmed a story broken by MEMO two months ago, revealing that Iraqi combat fatalities over the past six months in fighting against Daesh militants in Mosul has exceeded 8,000 men.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which has an extensive network of correspondents in Iraq, including those actively covering the operation to uproot Daesh from Mosul, reported over the weekend that an Iraqi security source had confirmed that around 8,000 Iraqi soldiers and police forces had been killed in the fight against the militant group.
According to Al Jazeera, the number of fatalities are due to the fierce defence being put up by Daesh fighters who, according to Iraqi sources, do not number more than 1,000 men focused in the remaining parts of western Mosul still under their control.
These combat deaths also do not include the fatalities suffered by Shia jihadists fighting under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a state-sanctioned but Iran-backed paramilitary organisation said to be an Iraqi version of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
MEMO had already broken the news that Iraqi forces had suffered fatalities of 7,000 men by February, and this was a combined figure that accounted for deaths from the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga militias, police units and Shia jihadists.
At the outset of the operation to recapture Mosul from Daesh extremists on 17 October, the combined Iraqi force arrayed against the militants stood at approximately 100,000 men. Meanwhile, US estimates for Daesh fighters in and around Iraq's second city predicted a force not exceeding 6,000 men.
Aside from the fatalities, Amaq Agency, Daesh's media arm, has claimed that the group has inflicted hundreds of vehicle losses against the Iraqi military, including disabling a number of advanced US-made M1 Abrams main battle tanks.
Despite being outnumbered by a ratio of almost 16:1, Daesh have made use of innovative tactics to act as a force multiplier. Examples include allowing Iraqi units to advance into neighbourhoods before striking them in unsecured flanks and rear areas by making use of tunnels, using heavily armoured vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and making extensive use of snipers and booby traps.
Although there are no reported figures on the number of wounded Iraqi troops, they are likely to number in the thousands due to the enclosed spaces imposed upon government forces and their allies by fighting in built-up areas and slow vehicle movement due to roads heavily cratered by shelling and airstrikes.
It is therefore quite possible that Daesh has inflicted catastrophic losses of at least 15 per cent total casualties.
Mosul 'wiped out'
In what has been seen as sectarian revenge attacks for Daesh militancy and losses inflicted against Iraqi forces, troops loyal to the government have been consistently filmed and exposed for having committed numerous violations and atrocities against the civilian population in and around Mosul.
Earlier this week, a commander in Iraq's Federal Police was filmed telling wounded soldiers that he and his men had avenged their extensive losses by "wiping out" entire neighbourhoods of Mosul.
— قناة الرافدين (@rafidenchannel) April 23, 2017
The officer, who has been identified as Lieutenant-General Shakir Jawdat, told his wounded men how he had avenged them, using examples of other decimated Sunni Arab towns and cities:
See how Fallujah became nothing but a story? How Tikrit, Baiji, Jurf Al-Sakhar and the Jazira, all of them became an example…We avenged you 100 per cent, by Allah we wiped out the entire district using artillery and missiles.
Iraq's Federal Police are primarily staffed by Shia jihadists from the Badr Organisation, which is a group that was founded in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Badr controls the interior ministry, and have placed militants in not only the ranks of the police, but also the military and the PMF, making them one of the most pervasive and powerful jihadist organisations in Iraq.
Jawdat's admissions are not the first of their kind, and there has been a steady stream of evidence indicating that abuses have been perpetrated by the government and its allies who are supposed to be spearheading efforts to liberate civilians from Daesh's extremist excesses.
Days after the operation began and Amnesty International warned of risk of mass human rights violations due to the involvement of Iran-backed Shia jihadists, MEMO again broke the harrowing story last year of children being beaten with hammers by troops loyal to Baghdad, as others were bundled into the back of a pickup truck, threatened with guns and insulted with sectarian slurs.
These shocking images were almost immediately followed in October by other suspected Shia militants beating a child as they interrogated him because they did not like his answers. A month later, soldiers who appeared to be wearing insignia badges for the Iraqi Special Forces, filmed themselves crushing a Sunni child under a tank.
While a number of these abuses have also been reported by international human rights organisations including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, there have been no formal investigations launched by the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi instead accused Amnesty of publishing "false information" that was endangering lives.
Daesh political victory?
In the absence of any inquiries into these abuses and others that have been perpetrated since the war against Daesh was launched in 2014, a lack of accountability and a trail of devastated Sunni cities may lead to Daesh gaining a political victory once the battle for Mosul is concluded, even if it fails militarily.
Mamoon Alabbasi, a London-based Iraqi journalist who has covered government and militia human rights abuses, told MEMO that, by doing little apart from condemning these abuses, the Iraqi government risked a continuation of the sectarian violence in Iraq.
Many Iraqis are not judging such despicable acts by their severity, but rather by who is carrying them out. Thus the same violations, whether carried out by the so-called Islamic State [Daesh] or by the militias are judged differently. This kind of attitude allows the vicious circle of sectarian violence to continue.
These thoughts were echoed by members of the Iraqi opposition in exile.
"The government cannot on the one hand claim to be liberating the Iraqi people while at the same time slaughtering Sunni Arabs," Ahmed Almahmoud, an analyst with the London-based Foreign Relations Bureau – Iraq (FRB) said.
Almahmoud added: "If the Green Zone regime can do nothing to stop these Iranian proxy Shia militias, then Daesh will simply say that they were right about Baghdad's anti-Sunni sectarianism, handing the extremists a political victory."