The city of Mosul stands on the banks of the Tigris River as it runs through northern Iraq. It once was a prosperous industry and transportation hub, producing marble and oil. Crucially, the city has huge strategic value, as it controls a highway that runs to the border with Syria and its second city, Aleppo.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Mosul remained under the control of troops loyal to Saddam Hussein until April of that year, when the local garrison fled. Uday and Qusay Hussein, the dictator’s sons, were killed during a shootout with Coalition forces in July.
Civilian US contractors moved in after Mosul was secured and implemented an extensive programme to rebuild the city’s infrastructure, which had been largely destroyed during fighting.
The rise of ISIS in subsequent years brought widespread turmoil and unrest to Iraq, and many intellectuals, engineers, journalists, and other people of significance were either killed or forced to leave.
ISIS took full control of the city in June 2014, forcing the evacuation of up to half a million people. The extremist organization systematically massacred the scattered remnants of the Iraqi army, seizing large amounts of US-manufactured weapons and equipment in the process.
Mosul has remained in ISIS hands ever since. Now, a coalition of US and Iraqi forces is preparing to mount a large-scale ground offensive in an effort to drive ISIS out of the city for good.
There is a perception that ISIS are on the backfoot, and that their morale is waning in the wake of recent surgical drone strikes that have taken out key tier one personnel within the organization.
President Obama has authorized dispatching 600 extra troops to the area, thus increasing the number of US forces on the ground to just over 5,200. Though a significant number, it’s still a far cry from the 170,000-strong US army present in Iraq during the height of the conflict in 2003.
The ground offensive is expected to begin in the next few weeks.