Battle for Mosul just the beginning

by DR. PETER BROOKES November 1, 2016

Powerful players must find common ground

The battle to pull Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, from the Islamic State's (aka ISIS) death grip is now in Week Two - and while victory doesn't seem to be in sight just yet, progress toward retaking the city has been made.

Unfortunately, evicting ISIS from Mosul is only Problem No. 1.

At the moment, news reports indicate that the various local, regional and foreign ground forces are closing in on the provincial capital by taking villages around the city in preparation for an all-out assault.

The big fight on the ground inside Mosul itself hasn't yet begun.

In addition to U.S. special operations forces "advising and assisting" Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), our troops are providing air, artillery and intelligence support to the effort. The Brits and French are there too.

So far, anti-ISIS forces have had to stomach the usual menu of terrorist dishes, according to news reports: suicide, roadside and car bombs and innocent civilians used as "human shields." They've also set oil wells ablaze for cover.

Not surprisingly, the Islamic State has reportedly made diversionary attacks behind the ISIS-opposition forces advance toward Mosul in places like Kirkuk, Sinjar and Baghdad.

While success in Mosul isn't a sure thing, especially considering the ISF's embarrassing June 2014 retreat from the city, the anti-ISIS forces seem up for the big push into the city of perhaps one million residents.

While taking the city may take time - months or more - the bigger "struggle" could come after ISIS is ejected from Mosul. Many of the key actors have their own ideas about what happens post-ISIS, assuming the city is taken and held.

For instance, Baghdad clearly wants to exert control over the major city for both symbolic and security purposes, but the Shia-dominated government may have its hands full with the Sunni-dominated city.

Baghdad, which used Iranian forces and Shia-backed militias to fight the Islamic State, has a huge trust deficit with Sunni Iraqis and others; it was the post-U.S. withdrawal, Shia-Sunni divide that begat the Iraqi "civil war" which helped spawn ISIS' rise.

Indeed, Mosul was where ISIS declared the "caliphate."

Then there's Turkey, which now has a few thousand (uninvited) troops in northern Iraq. Baghdad is none too happy about it. Iran is likewise protesting Turkey's possible military moves against Mosul, writes the Tehran Times.

Ankara seems to want to keep Mosul a Sunni city, look after minority Turkmen, advance the interests of its ally, the Iraqi Kurds - as opposed to its enemy, the Syrian Kurds - and protect its historical ties to the city which was once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Of course, Sunni, Kurd Irbil, which has governed autonomously for some time, is unlikely desirous to return to the control of Shia, Arab Baghdad when this is all over. A big friend like the Turks could help the Kurds achieve that outcome.

Yes, it's that complicated - if not easily more so.

The battle for Mosul is really just beginning: The fight includes not only wresting the city back from the Islamic State's terrorist army, but could involve a pitched struggle for political influence over Mosul involving powerful regional players.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He writes a weekly column for the New York Post and frequently appears on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR and BBC. He is the author of: "A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Rogue States." Mr. Brookes served in the U.S. Navy and is now a Commander in the naval reserves. He has over 1300 flight hours aboard Navy EP-3 aircraft. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; the Defense Language Institute; the Naval War College; the Johns Hopkins University; and Georgetown University.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. 
peterbrookes@heritage.org

 
Twitter: @Brookes_Peter



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