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Mosul is 'going to get messy,' analysts predict

By Paul Iddon 13/10/2016
Iraqi Security Forces have arrived at the Khazir front, north of Mosul. Photo: AP video
Iraqi Security Forces have arrived at the Khazir front, north of Mosul. Photo: AP video
As the battle to force Islamic State (ISIS) out of Iraq's second city, Mosul, gears up analysts predict "it's going to get messy," pointing out potential coordination problems between the diverse forces arrayed against the militants.

Iraq analyst Joel Wing anticipates difficulties of cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish Peshmerga forces which "could be an issue."

"The way cities have been assaulted before is to surround them, try to let civilians escape, and then begin the assault," Wing told Rudaw English. 

"In Mosul's case will the whole city be surrounded by the just the Iraqi forces or will the northeast be covered by the Peshmerga and the rest of the ISF?" he asked. "That could lead to some complications in the initial stages of the battle with coordination and communication." 

Kyle Orton, a Middle East analyst and Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society is also worried that there will be no "effective coordination between the various actors heading into Mosul."

"The recent outbreak of tension between Turkey and Baghdad, and by extension Iran and its militias, has done nothing to help this," Orton told Rudaw English. 

Presently the ISF are set to be the main ground force attacking the city with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militiamen playing, at most, supporting roles outside the city.  

Turkey, however, is adamant that it will play some role in Mosul's liberation. The Turkish government has dismissed outright Iraq's demand that they withdraw the forces they have deployed to the Bashiqa training camp near Mosul. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also insisted that, "After liberating Mosul from [ISIS], only Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and Sunni Kurds should stay there." 

"The Turkish proxy, Hashd al-Watani, was at one stage supposed to be a 'hold' force after Mosul's liberation, now apparently it's not going to be involved at all," Orton noted.  

The potential Turkish role in the operation is something Dylan O'Driscoll of the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) thinks could do serious harm to the delicate cooperative efforts of the other forces on the ground.   

"Militarily at least, the planning has not been lacking and there are clear plans for the operation with regards to the role of the forces, and coordination and command," O'Driscoll told Rudaw English. 

"The only unpredictable factor is Turkey and the level of their engagement, if any, will have a knock on effect on managing or controlling the role of the Hashd al-Shaabi, which could prove vital for the success of the operation and the post-battle stabilization," he added. 

Militias in the Hashd al-Shaabi, particularly those backed by Iran, are vehemently opposed to Turkey's presence in Bashiqa and have even threatened to attack them. 

One bizarre incident last December, when these tensions between Baghdad and Ankara began, saw the Kataeb Hezbollah militia claim on their television channel that they had been responsible for a rocket attack against Bashiqa which was attributed to ISIS. The claim was made in spite of the fact that, at that time, their forces were at least 100 kilometers to the south of that area.

Orton believes that any role played by the Hashd al-Shaabi in this operation could benefit ISIS. 

"Keeping the Hashd al-Shaabi out of the Mosul offensive is very important because its dominant factions, the sectarian Iranian proxy militias, as well as its human rights abuses against civilians, provide ISIS a perfect foil for recovery," Orton reasons. 

"At present it seems the Hashd will stay out, confined to areas west of the city. However, the Hashd spokesmen insist that their forces will be part of the operation, and the US has not pushed back very hard at this notion," he added.

Orton also believes that the presence of the Kurdish Peshmerga in the so-called disputed territories in Nineveh could alienate and embitter local Arabs; something he thinks may even benefit ISIS in the near future. 

"The Peshmerga is resented by Arab inhabitants for their participation in carving out a maximalist interpretation of the Kurdistan Region's border right after Saddam fell," Orton said.  

"So it's going to be messy. Mosul is another case where many actors are using the anti-ISIS fight to advance other agendas they've long sought, and in the process are setting up conditions that favour IS in the medium-term," Orton concluded.  


M Gonzales
M Gonzales | 13/10/2016
Tel Afar is going to be another interesting military engagement
Jews4Kurdistan | 15/10/2016
The Turkish Army doesn't have the stomach for this fight. They'll be keen to use Hashd al-Watani as a proxy. But when the going gets rough they'll withdraw to the safety of the KRG.
Mariam | 18/11/2016
It's too bad that Iraq gets treated with so little respect by Turkey. And, of course, NATO stands back and lets Turkey get away with it.

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