Iraqi forces are set to enter the Islamic State held city of Mosul on Tuesday, as special forces close in on the city.
It will be the first time that Iraqi troops have set foot in Mosul in more than two years, since IS first took control of the city. Iraqi forces are not sure what they will find in Mosul, after such a long time under IS control.
"The special forces have stormed in," Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces said. "Daesh [the Arabic term for IS] is fighting back and have set up concrete blast walls to block off the Karama neighborhood and our troops' advance."
Experts are not sure exactly what to expect when they enter Mosul, although they do anticipate fierce resistance and possible house-to-house fighting. CNN reports that although Iraqi counterterrorism troops took the last populated area outside of city limits, a town called Gogjali, and raised Iraq’s national flag on a TV station outside of Mosul on Tuesday, efforts to take the city itself have been slowed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted outside of Mosul’s limits.
Despite resistance, however, Iraqi officers are optimistic about their advance into the city, telling The New York Times that they expect to fully secure areas like Gogjali soon.
"We are facing tough resistance," said special forces officer Capt. Raad Hussein. "But we will get it."
Officials are concerned that the two-week Mosul offensive could result in sectarian violence and a humanitarian crisis, as the government anticipates coping with the thousands of Mosul civilians who are likely to soon need food, shelter, and emergency services.
The New York Times reports that as many as 1 million people could still be living in Mosul, despite the thousands already displaced by years of violence. Around 18,000 individuals have already been displaced during the two week long Mosul campaign, although the International Organization for Migration says that figure is a low estimate.
The Iraqi government is currently encouraging citizens in areas already taken by the Iraqi military to remain in their homes. As the Iraqi army advanced into Gogjali, some residents hung white flags over their homes and stood outside to welcome soldiers.
"Now we are very close to the city of Mosul," said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a speech. "And we call on the people to stay at home, to kick out Islamic State, and not to allow them to destroy the infrastructure or to booby-trap the streets."
The Islamic State’s presence in Mosul has also created a host of humanitarian problems for the Iraqi government.
Because IS has been established in the city for more than two years, the group has brought thousands of women and children to the city, generating concerns that fierce fighting during attempts to take the city will result in higher-than-expected civilian casualties.
Other families who have escaped the city say that educational opportunities were lacking within the ISIS-controlled city. Some children have been out of school for years.
The US military, which continues to head the coalition to evict ISIS from Mosul, believes that there are between 4,500 and 7,500 ISIS fighters defending the city.