Convoy of Peshmerga vehicles participating in the Mosul operation. Hejar Jawhar / Rudaw.
Close cooperation between the Iraqi military and Kurdish Peshmerga in the Mosul operation may come to an end when the common goal of defeating ISIS is achieved, analysts have warned.
Yerevan Saeed, an analyst and Research Associate at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington, believes that the cooperation is "unprecedented" but told Rudaw English that he worries more about the post-ISIS situation in Mosul, “where all the competing forces will seek to harvest the spoils of the battle.”
“Now ISIS has become a glue to keep all competing stakeholders together, but once the glue is gone, its hard see such cooperation would continue,” Saeed explained. “What you have there are forces divided by ethnic and sectarian lines in which each tries to get the biggest share of the cake. Despite their patriotism rhetoric, they are driven by their ethnic and sectarian interests.”
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute, is more optimistic. He believes that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leadership “has chosen a very pragmatic approach to this battle in Mosul.”
“Allowing Iraqi Army forces into the Nineveh Plains and Mosul Dam area was a big step,” he told Rudaw English. “This indicates that a strong set of guarantees has been negotiated by the Coalition regarding the demilitarization or shared control of both areas after the battle.”
While Knights dubs this “a promising start” he, like Saeed, is cautious about how long-lasting this cooperation is.
“We’ll have to see how both sides handle the demilitarization of both these areas when this battle is finished,” he cautioned.
A reminder of past tensions between Baghdad and Erbil resurfaced late last month when former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki lashed out at the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), accusing it of harboring “Israeli sympathizers” in the Kurdistan Region. The KDP responded by saying the “crimes he (Maliki) has committed against the Kurdish nation are no lesser than the crimes of Ali Hasan al-Majid (Chemical Ali).”
While this exchange isn’t overly significant today since Maliki is no longer prime minister it could be a warning of things to come if he ever does manage to reclaim power. There are already serious fears Maliki is maneuvering his way back to power in Baghdad and was behind the respective votes of no-confidence against former Iraqi defense minister Khaled al-Obeidi and finance minister Hoshyar Zebari, done simply in order to weaken Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and create a power vacuum.
During his time as prime minister Maliki even once hinted at sending the Iraqi Army to Erbil, but said he would only do so when he received F-16 jet fighter bombers from the United States. Since that time Iraq has started taking delivery of a fleet of these jets and is currently using them in the war against ISIS.
“Now Iraq has F-16s, but they’re dropping bombs in support of the Peshmerga advance in Mosul, not on the Peshmerga,” Knights noted, adding that he hopes it stays this way.
However, the worrisome prospect for future conflict with Baghdad after Mosul’s liberation remains. Saeed predicts several scenarios in which conflict may break out between the forces whose guns are all currently arrayed against ISIS.
“Once ISIS is gone, we have forces such as those led by former Nineveh governor Atheel al-Nujaifi. who will come face to face with Iraqi forces and Shia militias,” he said. “In addition, we will have different Sunni forces from Mosul who are led by different leaders.”
Saeed also identifies the so-called disputed territories between the KRG and Baghdad in Nineveh as a potential flashpoint. The vast majority of these territories have been secured by ISIS from the Peshmerga. The status of these territories was supposed to have been conclusively resolved years ago under the terms of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which the government in Baghdad has never implemented.
“It’s hard to see how Kurds will leave parts of Nineveh province that are predominantly Kurdish. For Kurds, their Peshmerga forces are drawing the borders of Kurdistan with their own blood,” Saeed explained.
“Thus, we will have range of very contentious issues that will pop up as soon as ISIS is gone,” he concluded.
For now, Baghdad and Erbil are cooperating and fighting against the same enemy. However, given the recent tensions and historic conflict between them this current cooperation could prove to be a rare exception to a much more general rule.