Week three of the assault on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul – occupied by the militant group Islamic State – reportedly starts with Iraqi troops near the city limits. Conflicting information says Iraq Security Forces (ISF) are either within rifle-range of the city or stalled 10 kilometres away. Either way, the easy part of the assault is over.
Tens of thousands of ISF, coalition, Peshmerga and militia forces now prepare for the next phase of combat: urban warfare. The US has not participated in a siege of a city of this size since World War II, and the ISF have no history of such engagements. The Islamic State (IS) have had two years to dig in and prepare defences and if they were going to flee, they would have done so by now.
An estimated 2000-10,000 IS militants will be outgunned and outmanoeuvred but the fighters intend to make the assaulting force pay dearly for every street corner they take. The group’s strategy will be to extend the fighting to hopefully exacerbate tribal and religious tensions among the ISF, weaken its morale and cause it to second-guess a follow-on assault on IS’ Syrian capital of Raqqa. As the bloody urban combat begins, IS’ strategy could work but ultimately it will lose Mosul.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wrapped up its sixth Plenary Session – a high level government strategy meeting – announcing President Xi Jinping as “core” of the party. This title adds to his position as head of the CCP, head of the military and head of state. Mr Xi is cementing his power base as an authority not to be questioned, a trend not dissimilar to the one followed by dictators Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.
China also completed its first ever counterterror exercise with Saudi Arabia late last week and another with Tajikistan. Beijing hosted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, promising cooperation including allowing Filipino fishermen access to the contested Scarborough Shoal. China also participated in talks with Russia for working closely on the situation in Syria.
The loud foreign interactions follow a pattern. China’s engagement with the outside has increased over the last two years. China is attempting a difficult economic switch from a low-cost manufacturing country to consumer-based and expects its citizens to become more frustrated. The international displays of power show the Chinese people that the CCP remains in control and can be trusted to succeed in the transition.