Iraqi-led Coalition Advances in Mosul Leading to Post Liberation Questions

by WILLOW STONE November 18, 2016

An Iraqi-led coalition surrounds Mosul, which remains in Islamic State hands. The coalition is made up of the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Iraqi army bolstered by Iranian-backed Shia militias and Iraq's Sunni Arabs. The United States has troops on the ground and is providing air support and reconnaissance. More than 30,000 troops make up the coalition, not including the US.

Mosul is Iraq's second largest city and is located right on the banks of the Tigris river. The city is important for transportation between Syria and Iraq. It also has large oil fields and a pipeline that runs into Turkey.

The Iraqi government forces fought IS for Mosul beginning June 4th until the fall of Mosul when insurgents gained total control over the city on June 10th.

By August 3rd, 2014 IS had taken control of the Mosul Dam and began governing the city.

On January 21st 2015, a Mosul offensive was launched by the Kurdish Peshmerga seeking to regain control over key territories northeast of the city. In the year 2015 IS lost around 14% of their territory.

By October 17th 2016 Operation "We Are Coming Ninevah" was a go. Within a few weeks Kurdish Peshmerga had retaken 10 villages east of the city. The coalition is pushing in on Mosul on 3 sides, Iraqis are pushing in from the south and the Kurds are surrounding the north and east of the city.

It is estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 IS fighters are in Mosul, while more than 1.2 million civilians still live in the city. While more than 4,800 American troops are in Iraq and more than 100 US special operations forces are working with Iraqi units.

Most of the civilians remaining in Mosul are Sunni. These people left in the city must decide whether to stay under oppressive Sunni rule by Islamic State, or risk possible retribution at the hands of Shia militias, which have already been documented for targeting and killing Sunni civilians. The Shia terror group Hezbollah based in Lebanon has recently released a video showing the Hezbollah fighters training the Shiite fighters. Hezbollah and IS have a fighting history in Lebanon and they want to see IS be defeated in Iraq.

Civilian casualties remain a concern as the operation to retake Mosul continues. IS fighters are also using approximately 10,000 civilians as human shields,

In addition to the sectarian threat posed by Shia militias, another threat to the stability of the coalition comes from the role, or lack of a role, to be played by Turkey. While Turkey is not formally part of the Mosul operation, they do have troops in theater, where since last December about 500 Turkish troops have been training Sunni and Kurdish fighters.

The tensions between Iraq and Turkey have increased since Turkey insist they assist with the liberation, even though Iraq has told them not to get involved and that they can handle it and has warned that their involvement would violate national sovereignty and would be considered an act of an enemy.

Turkey would want a hand in this ongoing operation for many reasons: diminishing territorial gain for the Kurds, concerns for refugee inflow into Turkey, pushing back Shia dominance in historical Sunni areas, and their desire to influence future political influence in Mosul.  Additional concerns involve the flow of oil from Northern Iraqi oil wells, and insuring that oil flows through pipelines into Turkey, and not South.

With or without the help from Turkey, the Iraqi-led forces are determined to destroy Islamic State' hold on Northern Iraq, although IS isn't going down without a fight.

Just in October IS has carried out 120 suicide bomber operations in Iraq and Syria. 79 of these attacks have taken place in the Nineveh province, which is where Mosul resides in. IS has dozens of factories where they're making bombs and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices; however, multiple factories have been destroyed during warfare by the coalition.

November 3rd the Iraqi military entered the eastern side of Mosul and later gained control of parts of the area. This is the first time since 2014 that Iraqi forces have set foot in Mosul. Earlier in the week Sayyid Ahmam al-Dhibaniyah and al-Kuhrtah were liberated on the southwestern side by the Iraqi forces.

Advances are still going strong for the Iraqi-led coalition. By November 14th more than 1,000 IS fighters have been killed and 10 neighborhoods have been liberated on the eastern side of Mosul, including Bashiqa.

While the ultimate cost may be high, there is little question that ultimately Mosul will be freed of Islamic State control. The question is who will govern a post-Islamic State Mosul? What role will Kurds, Sunni and Shia play in the city? How would the Turks respond to increased Kurdish influence?

Political leaders in Erbil and Baghdad need to start addressing these questions now.

Willow Stone writes for http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/


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