Smoke rises in the distance after Coalition forces bomb ISIS targets Mosul's Hazer region last May. Photo: AA.
Top Iraqi and US leaders have said they expect to see Iraq’s second-city of Mosul liberated from Islamic State (ISIS) militants, who infamously captured it back in June 2014, before the end of 2016. But with only three months left for that deadline, analysts remain unsure if this is a realistic expectation.
Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) last month captured the oil town of Qayyara, about 60 kilometers south of Mosul, where they remain. Meanwhile the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which will be part of the anticipated offensive, advanced further into Nineveh Province last month, snatching back large chunks of territory from ISIS and leaping closer to Mosul. Both the Iraqis and Kurds are supported by the US-led coalition, which has been providing air support.
“In some areas the Peshmerga are only seven kilometers away from Mosul, in some other areas 10 kilometers,” Peshmerga commander Sheikh Jaffar Mustafa told Rudaw last month. ”The Peshmerga are much closer to Mosul than the Iraqi army is,” he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi remains confident that his forces can push ISIS from Mosul by the end of the year. He repeated this promise as recently as last week at the sixth TEDx Baghdad conference.
Abadi first made the pledge as 2015 came to a close – following the liberation of the city of Ramadi from the militants by the ISF. He also vowed he would still meet this deadline following the recapture of Fallujah from the militants in late June.
In late August, the head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), General Joseph Votel, said Iraq’s fight against ISIS is indeed gathering momentum.
“It’s the (Iraqi) prime minister’s objective to have that done by the end of the year,” Votel told a news conference. “My assessment is that we can meet … the prime minister’s objectives, if that’s what he chooses to do.”
He also said Iraqi forces “are on track” to recapture Mosul.
US President Barack Obama also said, back in April, that he expects major progress to be made by the Iraqis against ISIS in Mosul by the end of 2016.
“My expectation is that by the end of the year, we will have created the conditions whereby Mosul will eventually fall,” he said.
Analysts remain more skeptical.
“There's the possibility that Mosul will be attacked by the end of the year,” Joel Wing, an Iraq analyst, told Rudaw English. “The fact that Golden Division (Iraqi Army Special Forces) elements have moved up to the front will help. At the same time, it's been very slow progress for the ISF, while the Kurds have only made occasional moves, which could mean the start of 2017 might be a more realistic estimate to make for the battle for Mosul to start.”
Michael Knights, an Iraq expert and Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute, also anticipates major moves in Mosul by early 2017, but doesn’t see ISIS being ousted completely from the city anytime soon.
“There is a 50-50 chance that the provincial center in western Mosul’s old town is secured by the end of this year, but a 90 percent chance that ISF will be fighting in many parts of Mosul city by the end of 2017,” Knights told Rudaw English.
Peshmerga General Sirwan Barzani, meanwhile, said he is unsure if the 2016 deadline will be reached, due to conflicting statements he hears coming from both the Iraqi government and the media in general.
“It depends on the plans,” he told Rudaw English. “We don’t know the final plans and it depends on the forces involved. It’s changed from the Iraqi side like 45 times. It’s not clear yet because we hear different things from the media every day.
“Sometimes Prime Minister Abadi says it’ll be Shiite militias or someone else liberating Mosul. We need a clear plan,” Barzani said.
Commenting on whether Mosul’s liberation could take place this year, he said: “I think it is possible.”