Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has fled Mosul and is hiding out in the desert straddling Iraq and Syria, senior US and Iraqi officials believe, leaving just a core of hardline supporters to battle on in the besieged city.
The marked leader is believed to have fled to a remote region around the Syrian border, where supporters are plenty and the potential for informers fewer.
“It’s their historic region, they know the people there and the terrain; food, water and gasoline are easy to get, spies are easier to spot,” Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander for the US-led anti-IS group coalition, told Reuters.
The sparsely populated desert region is inhabited chiefly by loyal Sunni tribes and Baghdadi and his guards are believed to follow strict security protocol to cover their tracks.
Security chiefs came to the conclusion of a Baghdadi flight due to an absence in communication between IS leaders, Iraqi officials told Reuters.
The last speech by Baghdadi was two weeks ago when the IS leader urged fighters to fight on against the “unbelievers”.
Back in Mosul the fight is not going well for IS, where the desperate defenders are left to slow down an unstoppable Iraqi offensive with the potential for counter-offensives all but gone.
“The game is up,” Isler told Reuters. “They have lost this fight and what you’re seeing is a delaying action.”
Those left are still putting up a fierce fight against the Iraqi government onslaught, but Isler said they are mostly fighting as independent units rather than under a united command.
“The inevitability of their destruction just becomes really a matter of time,” he added.