Iraqi troops have been preparing for the Mosul offensive for months. AP file photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Although it fell to Islamic State (ISIS) militants more than two years ago, analysts fear that the long-anticipated campaign to recapture Mosul could be carried out prematurely, without a clear plan for post-battle governance.
“I think they are rushing into it,” warned Dylan O’Driscoll, a senior fellow at the Erbil-based Middle East Research Institute (MERI). “I think it’s political; basically you had (Iraqi Prime Minister Haider) Abadi promise to finish the operation before the end of the year,” he told Rudaw English.
“If you look at his political position this is something he will have to deliver on for his short-term political future," O'Driscoll said.
"In the US, liberating Mosul before January will be an almost swansong end to Obama’s administration and will also lay the groundwork for the next leader,” O’Driscoll said.
“Delivering this future will be seen as a benefit," he added. "But what’s going to happen in four years? These are the questions we need to ask. Again, it’s political short-sightedness which we have witnessed in Iraq over and over again," he warned.
Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, argued that, "militarily speaking, the Mosul operation is doable," warning like O’Driscoll that the problems lie in post-liberation governance.
"It’s where plans are regarding the governance and political dimension of the equation that make the liberation of Mosul premature," he told Rudaw English.
Mardini worries that if the main force routing ISIS from Mosul isn't strong enough to stabilize the post-battle order, then a dangerous power vacuum could be created, which several militias will seek to fill, much to the detriment of the region's stability and security.
"Liberation without a singular chain of command will contribute to a post-conflict environment that lacks control and executive administration," Mardini said. "Without a force ready to monopolize violence the day after, the 'militiaization' of post-ISIS Mosul becomes a real possibility."
Mardini also worries about the lack of any "central arbiter to manage the relationship, behavior and expectation of the various forces that will control and govern Mosul." That, he fears, will ultimately result in the Shiite-majority Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) -- or Hashd al-Shaabi -- militia gaining a foothold in Nineveh.
"This should concern political leaders in Erbil," he warned. "The Kurds will face a new reality of having Shiite militias on their border, with some even wishing to push the Peshmerga out from territories they gained control of since 2014."
The prospect of a far from ideal post-ISIS situation on Kurdistan's borders, Mardini added, may also undermine any outcome of negotiations with Baghdad concerning independence.
"The central government’s authority in the negotiation process will be undercut, given its increasing lack of control over the use of violence," Mardini said. "Without authority, you are not in a position to make enforceable concessions."
For these reasons Mardini concludes that the Mosul operation should not be launched until Baghdad has the means to both capture the city militarily, which he believes they are ready for, and then stabilize it and implement some form of governance thereafter, which he doesn't believe they are presently capable of doing.
Consequently, he fears Mosul and the wider Nineveh region will continue to be a source of instability, which will threaten the region if this operation is launched in the coming weeks, as anticipated, based on comments by leaders and military authorities in the region and beyond.
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute and Iraq expert, argues that there is "never going to be an optimal time to liberate Mosul."
Knights, like Mardini, fears that the Hashd al-Shaabi could get a foothold on the Kurdistan Region's border. However, unlike Mardini, he believes this could happen if the Iraqis delay the launch of this operation.
"If we wait to build more forces then we risk the Shiite militias pushing their way back into the offensive, which would be a disaster," Knights reasoned.
"If we wait for a grand bargain on territories with the Kurds then we could be waiting for years," he added.
"The momentum is there now and ISIL (ISIS) is collapsing. ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) and Shiite PMF will advance, whatever the coalition does or doesn't do," Knights concluded.