Satellite imagery of the current operations by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul reveal how the Islamic State can inflict damage even when the militant group is on the run.

Iraqi forces began the operation to retake Mosul on Oct. 16, with forces advancing from the south along the Tigris River and from the east with the goal of retaking the outskirts of the city before beginning a block-by-block clearing of the largest city still held by the Islamic State in Iraq.

SYRIA

DETAIL

Baghdad

IRAQ

Mosul

Dam

Bashiqa

Tigris

Mosul

Bartala

Controlled by the

Islamic State

Lost since

October 17

Gwer

Mishraq

sulfur plant

10 MILES

Qayyarah

oil field

Mosul

Dam

SYRIA

DETAIL

Bashiqa

Tigris

Baghdad

IRAQ

Mosul

Bartala

Great

Zab R.

Irbil

Controlled by the

Islamic State

10 MILES

IRAQ

Gwer

Mishraq

sulfur plant

Lost since

October 17

Qayyarah

oil field

Makhmour

Imagery from the past week reveals front-line fires near the city as well as two large industrial fires that were set off by the Islamic State as the militants retreated from those positions. The black smoke is from the Qayyarah oil field, which burned for over four months, and the white smoke that begins on Oct. 20 is from a sulphur plant in Mishraq that was retaken by Iraqi forces within days of the start of the operation.

Oct. 17

Tigris

River

Mosul

10-mile

radius

Qayyarah

oil fire

Oct. 20

Fires along

the front lines

Tigris

River

Mosul

First evidence of

Mishraq sulphur fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Oct. 22

Fires along

the front lines

Tigris

River

Mosul

Mishraq

sulphur fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Oct. 23

Fires along

the front lines

Tigris

River

Mosul

Mishraq

sulphur fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Oct. 17

Oct. 20

Fires along

the front lines

Mosul

Mosul

10-mile

radius

Tigris

River

First evidence of

sulphur fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Oct. 22

Oct. 23

Fires along

the front lines

Fires along

the front lines

Mosul

Mosul

Mishraq

sulphur fire

Mishraq

sulphur fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Oct. 17

Oct. 20

Oct. 22

Oct. 23

Fires along

the front lines

Fires along

the front lines

Fires along

the front lines

Mosul

Mosul

Mosul

Mosul

10-mile

radius

Tigris

River

First evidence of

sulphur fire

Mishraq

sulphur fire

Mishraq

sulphur fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

Qayyarah

oil fire

While Iraqi forces continue to push out the Islamic State, the militants are leaving behind destroyed infrastructure and dangerous environmental conditions.

Iraqi families displaced by the ongoing operations to retake Mosul move through Qayyarah. (Bulent Kilic/AFP)

Iraqi forces wear gas masks as smoke billows in the background from the torched Mishraq sulphur factory. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

On June 18, Iraqi security forces began an offensive to retake Qayyarah, which the Islamic State seized in 2014. The militants used an oil field complex and refinery 40 miles south of Mosul to finance its operations. Based on satellite imagery, the Islamic State was apparently aware an attack was imminent because smoke began emanating from a small number of wells on June 16.

[ 10 new wars that could be unleashed as a result of the one against ISIS]

June 16

Tigris

River

Wells on fire

July 26

Qayyarah

August 15

Qayyarah

September 18

Qayyarah

June 16

July 26

Tigris

River

Wells on fire

Qayyarah

August 15

September 18

Qayyarah

Qayyarah

June 16

July 26

August 15

September 18

Tigris

River

Wells on fire

Qayyarah

Qayyarah

Qayyarah

On July 9, Iraqi forces secured a large air base nine miles west of Qayyarah. By then, more than 10 well heads were ablaze. On Aug. 25, Iraqi forces declared that Qayyarah had been retaken from the Islamic State. By the end of the summer, more than 15 wells were on fire. In September, close to 600 U.S. troops arrived at the air base to assist Iraqi forces with the planned offensive. While the Islamic State is no longer in control of Qayyarah, it still occasionally attacks the facility.

October 4

NORTH

Qayyarah

Tigris

To Mosul

Refinery

Oil wells on fire

Qayyarah

oil field

Q-West

military

base

2 MILES

To Mosul

Tigris

River

Qayyarah

oil field

Oil wells on fire

Qayyarah

Refinery

To Irbil

Q-West

military

base

2 MILES

October 4

To Mosul

Qayyarah

oil field

Tigris

River

Oil wells on fire

Qayyarah

Refinery

To Irbil

Q-West

military

base

2 MILES

The refinery served as the largest employer for Qayyarah, which had a population of 30,000 before the militants took over. Once able to process 10,000 barrels a day (bpd), the refinery produced just 2,000 bpd under the Islamic State. It has now been rendered useless by Islamic State sabotage. The town’s population dwindled to roughly 13,000 during the Islamic State occupation.

[ Battle for Islamic State stronghold could trigger a new crisis: A million displaced Iraqis]

July 26

1/2 MILE

Oil wells on fire

Qayyarah

Refinery

Tigris

Bridge over the Tigris was destroyed by U.S. airstrikes.

July 26

Oil wells on fire

Qayyarah

Refinery

Tigris

Power plant

Bridge over the Tigris was destroyed by U.S. airstrikes.

1/2 MILE

In the past year, Iraqi forces have been successfully driving out the Islamic State from the territory it had captured, including the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi along the Euphrates River in Anbar province. Today, with the strategic air base in Qayyarah under Iraqi control, the Islamic State is down to defending Mosul, its de facto capital in Iraq, and other territory in Nineveh province without the Qayyarah refinery.

[ Battle to banish Islamic State from Mosul could become a mess]

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