Protesters pressure the Iraqi government to implement reforms. AP photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Less than a fortnight ago US President Barack Obama declared that by the end of this year conditions would be right for the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which has been an Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold since it was captured in June 2014.
But on Saturday Iraq’s government – a key partner that Washington has been talking to about preparations for Mosul’s liberation – was fighting for its own survival.
A massive wave of protesters – most loyalists of the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who time and again has demonstrated his overarching influence over Iraqi politics – stormed the parliament in Baghdad, angered that their months-long pro-reform protests had been ignored.
They moved after Sadr – who said he was tired of a corrupt government that would not act on its promise of throwing out corrupt ministers for technocrats – warned he could “destroy” the government.
The storming of the legislature came after nearly a year of demonstrations, as Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and a parliament wracked by factional infighting, failed to reach agreement on reforms.
Obama said last month that he expects to see Mosul liberated soon.
“My expectation is that by the end of the year, we will have created the conditions whereby Mosul will eventually fall," the US president said.
Only late last week, US Vice President Joe Biden made an unannounced visit to Baghdad to lend support to the embattled Abadi and discuss plans for the Mosul operation.
Following his 90-minute meeting with Abadi on Thursday Biden said he was “very optimistic,” after discussing “plans in store for Mosul and coordination going on with all of our friends here.”
The vice president also said that Iraq’s progress against ISIS is “real” and “serious.”
Biden had been, reportedly according to a senior US administration official, hoping that some progress could be made on Mosul before the extremely hot Iraqi summer.
Abadi tweeted in late March that the “first stage of our offensive” to “liberate areas surrounding Mosul” had begun.
Iraqi forces have been fighting ISIS for weeks on the Makhmour front south of Erbil, and offensive considered an important prelude to the Mosul battle.
But in those areas, despite close US air and artillery support, progress has been slow. The momentum may slow down even more with the political paralysis now prevailing in Baghdad.
In comments that now seem prescient, a senior US official who traveled with Biden told the LA Times last Thursday that, “It’s our sense that if momentum is lost in the campaign, it’s more likely to happen on the political side than the military side.”
Meanwhile the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which have been bravely fighting ISIS without the heavier and more modern weapons the US has provided to the Iraqi Army, have been clear that they will not lead the battle for Mosul or attempt to retake the city on their own.
With the political paralysis now gripping Baghdad, Iraq’s second-largest city may yet remain the militants’ stronghold in Iraq for some more time to come.
Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.