Mosul battle: EU “should expect influx of jihadists”
The European Union should be prepared for an influx of jihadists if the so-called Islamic State (IS) is driven out of its Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, the EU”s security commissioner warns.
Julian King told Germany”s Die Welt newspaper that even a small number of militants would pose “a serious threat that we must prepare ourselves for”.
Iraqi forces launched what is expected to be a lengthy offensive on Monday.
As many as 5,000 IS fighters are believed to remain in Mosul.
Aid agencies are bracing themselves for what they say could be the largest man-made humanitarian crisis of recent times.
What is the latest on the offensive?
A coalition of some 34,000 Iraqi security personnel, Kurdish fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen, and Shia paramilitary forces – backed by the US and other nations – took a string of villages and districts in the south and east of Mosul on day one of the offensive.
Government troops, moving in from the south, are currently some 40km (24 miles) from the city, while Kurdish fighters are some 30km in the east.
The BBC”s Ahmed Maher, reporting from the frontline, says the strategy is to encircle the city before moving in on the centre itself.
US Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said late on Monday that the campaign was “ahead of schedule” but warned it was early days and it was not yet know whether IS fighters would “stand and fight”.
France”s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday “it could be a long battle” lasting several weeks, if not months.
What is the situation for Mosul residents?
An Iraqi-American journalist who has been on the outskirts of Mosul and has relatives in the city said the situation there was currently calm.
Steven Nabil said people were feeling a mixture of excitement at the prospect of being liberated, and “stress and worry” over what dangers the offensive would bring.
Phone lines had been re-established with the city in recent days, giving residents access to a free phone line.
“They”ve actually sent out hundreds of messages in the past hours telling the coalition” where IS locations are, particularly as they have moved into local neighbourhoods, he said.
The UN is working to create new refugee sites outside Mosul amid fears that as many as a million people may be forced from their homes.
Lise Grande, the UN”s humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq, said the organisation was working on the assumption that as many as 200,000 people might need shelter in the first days and weeks of the operation.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it fears the fighters might use civilians as human shields as the offensive advances – either by hiding amongst them as they flee the city or by preventing them from leaving and possibly even using chemical weapons.
Ms Grande said Iraqi security forces planned to vet fleeing civilians to ensure militants were not hiding among them.
What does this mean for Europe?
Julian King, a British diplomat recently made the EU”s security commissioner, told Die Welt that the re-taking of Mosul could lead to IS fighters returning to Europe.
“It”s a very serious threat which we have to prepare for, but we shouldn”t overestimate the risk,” he said.
“I think it”s very unlikely that there would be a mass exodus of IS fighters to Europe.”
He said there were about 2,500 fighters from EU countries in the war zone, and “similar cases in the past showed that only a few fighters come back”.
But he added: “I don”t want to talk the risk down, even a small number constitutes a threat.”
Why Mosul matters
Mosul, the oil-rich capital of Nineveh province, is Iraq”s second-largest city. IS militants overran it in June 2014.
Its capture became a symbol of the group”s rise as a major force and its ability to control territory, and it was there that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
The city was one of Iraq”s most diverse, comprising ethnic Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmens, as well as a variety of religious minorities.
While members of those minorities largely fled the onslaught by IS, many local Sunni Arabs initially welcomed the militants, angered by the sectarian policies of the previous Shia Arab-led central government.
But after two years of brutal IS rule, opposition has reportedly grown inside Mosul.
One major concern for those still there is the involvement of Shia militiamen in the offensive, after they were accused of sectarian abuses in other cities that have been recaptured.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has sought to reassure people by saying only Iraqi security forces will be allowed to enter Mosul.
Even if IS is driven out of Mosul, the group will still control areas of northern and eastern Iraq.