All eyes are now on Mosul. Photo: Farzin Hassan/Rudaw
As the coalition gears up for the impending operation to free Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) the question of how important Mosul’s stability is for the neighbouring Kurdistan Region is now more pressing than ever.
Even though ISIS has not yet been forced from Mosul, already one of the main concerns of the Kurdistan Region is guaranteeing the stability of Iraq’s second-city after those militants are removed.
Early focus on post-operation planning indicates that those with a stake in Mosul’s future want to ensure their victory over ISIS is a permanent one.
“Mosul is very important for Kurdistan Region,” Beriwan Khailany, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi parliament and member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), told Rudaw English. “To have a secure area in that part of Iraq is important for Erbil because if it is not secure Kurdistan will be negatively affected as a result.”
US President Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi this week and told him that post-ISIS Mosul needs to be rebuilt and stabilized in “a way that assures that not only ISIL does not come back but that its extremist ideology born out of desperation will not return.”
The Kurdistan Region’s President Masoud Barzani touched upon a similar theme last week when he discussed the importance of having a “political plan” ready for Mosul after it is liberated.
These statements indicate an acute awareness of the importance of a post-ISIS plan for Mosul.
The fall of Mosul and the wider Nineveh region to ISIS in the summer of 2014 did, after all, directly affect the Kurdistan Region’s security (some 1,400 Kurdish Peshmerga have been killed defending their region) as well as its economy.
That fact alone indicates, as Khailany says, that the security and stability of Nineveh is, in a sense, tied to the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region.
Dylan O’Driscoll, a research fellow at the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) in Erbil, told Rudaw English that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) “is in desperate need of stability in the region in order for investment to return,” due to the crippling financial crisis it is suffering.
“Therefore the stabilization of Mosul is extremely important to them,” O’Driscoll added. “Having chaos at your doorstep does nothing to encourage international investment.”
However, O’Driscoll feels the necessary steps to achieve this are not being taken.
“For this stability to happen there needs to be multiple political agreements and significant non-military planning prior to any liberation and I fear this is still not happening,” he said.
It is not all doom and gloom though. O’Driscoll believes that the Kurdistan Region can foster new alliances with emerging actors in the post-ISIS future of Mosul.
“Since the Islamic State has gained control of Mosul, relations between the KRG and the Sunni political actors of Mosul have improved immensely, largely due to the fact that the KRG is hosting and supporting the Nineveh Provincial Council,” he explained.
“Therefore,” he concluded, “the KRG can use the liberation of Mosul as an opportunity to forge new alliances within wider Iraqi politics with their neighbouring province.”
Maintaining cordial relations with the new authorities in post-ISIS Mosul is also likely to stabilize the wider region and allow the Kurdistan Region to focus more on winning foreign investment and rebuilding its shattered economy.
For now, however, the more immediate issue the Kurdistan Region is likely to face is the prospect of receiving hundreds of thousands more displaced people fleeing Mosul and seeking sanctuary when this operation, which the coalition and Iraq hope to launch before the end of the year, commences.
The KRG and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs are warning that they do not have enough money to facilitate another large influx of displaced people into that region.
If Mosul’s residents do choose to flee en masse when this operation begins, as their counterparts in the much smaller city of Fallujah did this summer, the Kurdistan Region may well become inundated with more displaced people, adding to the strain that Mosul’s fall has placed on Kurdistan.