The U.S.-led war on Islamic State has depleted the group’s funds, leadership and foreign fighters, but the biggest battle yet is expected later this year in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his “caliphate” two years ago.
The jihadist insurgents have lost more than half the territory they seized in Iraq and nearly as much in neighboring Syria, but still manage to control their twin capitals of Mosul and Raqqa, symbols of the state they sought to build at the heart of the Middle East.
Military and humanitarian preparations are now in full swing to retake Mosul, the largest city under the ultra-hardline group’s control. American troops are establishing a logistics hub to the south, while the United Nations warns of the world’s most complex humanitarian operation this year.
Iraq’s recapture over the summer of Qayyara airbase and surrounding areas along the Tigris river 60 km (40 miles) south of Mosul have set the stage for a big push on the city, which commanders say could start by late October.
Whether Islamic State makes a final stand in Mosul or slips away to fight another day remains in question, but Baghdad expects a fierce battle and the international coalition backing it is preparing for one.
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