Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the second most-wanted terrorist in the world, has been hiding in the group’s besieged stronghold of Mosul, encircled by the Iraqi army and allied militias, a senior Kurdish commander told the Independent.
In an interview on Wednesday, Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Iraqi Kurdistan’s head, Massoud Barzani, said that, though he has been lying low for the past eight or nine months, Baghdadi is most likely still alive and in the city.
Baghdadi is there and, if he is killed, it will mean the collapse of the whole [IS] system,” Hussein argued, pointing to the vulnerability of Islamic State’s (IS, ISIS/ISIL) command structure, which has no suitable replacement for Baghdadi. According to Hussein, IS’ leader has had to completely rely on other terrorist commanders in Mosul and the nearby city of Tal Afar, a largely Turkmen-populated city in the Nineveh Province.
While Hussein believes that Baghdadi’s demise will speed efforts to retake the country, his presence in the IS’ self-proclaimed capital in Iraq may result in the jihadists resorting to desperate tactics to protect their kingpin.
“It is obvious that they will lose, but not how long this will take to happen,” he said, adding that the timeline of the battle for Mosul will be determined by several variables.
One such factor is whether the jihadists manage to blow up the five bridges over the Tigris River to cut Iraqi troops off from the western part of the city. So far, Iraqi special forces have managed to enter Mosul from the east for the first time since it was overrun by jihadists in 2014.