Iraqi forces are stalled and suffering heavy casualties in their assault on the last Isis fighters defending close-packed buildings in the Old City of Mosul. Civilian loss of life is very high as US aircraft, Iraqi helicopters and artillery, try to target Isis strongpoints in a small area in which at least 300,000 civilians are trapped and unable to reach safety.
Isis fighters shoot at government troops from houses and then escape quickly through holes they have ordered people to cut in the walls of their homes, leaving them to face retaliatory fire. In a single district of Mosul this week 237 civilians were killed by air strikes, including 120 of them in one house, according to a Kurdish news agency.
The last chapter of the siege of Mosul, which has now been going on for 155 days, is likely to be more bloody than anything seen before. It will certainly end with the capture of the city or what is left of it, raising the crucial question of how far its loss will be a death blow to Isis.
It was the unexpected seizure of Mosul by a few thousand Isis fighters in June 2014 after defeating an Iraqi government garrison 20 times as large, that turned the fundamentalist movement into an international force. At its peak, the self-declared Caliphate ruled an area in northern Iraq and eastern Syria as large as Great Britain.
Isis had always used terrorism directed against civilians as an integral part of its tactics to show strength, spread…