As Iraqi forces and counterterrorism units advance to the eastern edge of Mosul, Iraq, a more complicated phase begins in the attempt to liberate this city overrun by the Islamic State. This new phase is complicated and dangerous because the closer these forces come to Mosul, the more civilians are placed in harm’s way. One important piece of this new phase will be whether the Islamic State will retreat to the less populated side of the city, or to the densely populated side along the Tigris River. As this liberation movement continues, the fear of an Iraqi humanitarian crisis rises. More than 18,000 people have already been displaced in the villages surrounding Mosul because of this liberation campaign, and another million remain in Mosul.
If the Islamic State retreats into the densely populated Old City in Mosul, I fear this liberation campaign will last months. The Iraqi government is telling the citizens of Mosul not to evacuate, but I hesitate to believe that is the right decision. If this campaign escalates, Mosul could become the new Aleppo.