Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries drive a T-72 tank as they advance near the town of Tal Abtah, south of Tal Afar, on November 30, 2016. AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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In the early days of the assault on Daesh (ISIS) in Mosul, Iran successfully pressed Iraq to change its battle plan and seal off the city, an intervention which has since shaped the tortuous course of the conflict, sources briefed on the plan say. The original campaign strategy called for Iraqi forces to close in around Mosul in a horseshoe formation, blocking three fronts but leaving open the fourth – to the west of the city leading to Daesh territory in neighboring Syria.That model, used to recapture several Iraqi cities from the ultra-hard-line militants in the last two years, would have left fighters and civilians a clear route of escape and could have made the Mosul battle quicker and simpler.But Tehran, anxious that retreating fighters would sweep back into Syria just as Iran's ally President Bashar Assad was gaining the upper hand in his country's nearly 6-year-old civil war, wanted Daesh crushed and eliminated in Mosul.Nevertheless, securing territory west of Mosul by the Iranian-backed militias has other benefits for Iran's allies, by giving the Shiite fighters a launch pad into neighboring Syria to support Assad.The Kurdish official was less sanguine, saying the battle for Mosul was now "more difficult" and could descend into a long drawn out siege similar to those seen in Syria.
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