Commentary

The Liberation of Mosul Begins

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

Iraqi forces have reached the city of Mosul and are preparing for what might turn out to be prolonged street-by-street fighting against Islamic State fighters. Most regional observers expect eventual success, but many wonder what will be left once the battle has been won and whether the Iraqi government has even planned for that day. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has insisted that it intends to get involved regardless of whether the Iraqi government gives it permission to do so or not, leading some to fear that the war of words might turn into a military confrontation between the two countries.

In a recent editorial, the Khaleej Times staff wonders whether Mosul will prove to be a pyrrhic victory: “Fears of a humanitarian crisis are growing. What will be left of the city when all this violence ends?...The victory will be symbolic at best, even pyrrhic, because the city will be in shambles, a generation lost to the vagaries of war and wages of a cowardly retreat by the Iraqi military....Battles are won by armies, the spoils of war are not for ordinary residents, who have endured the agony and brutality that knew no bounds for two long years. According to estimates, 60,000 people were killed by the group. They were beheaded, crucified, mutilated and blasted out of existence. Others were buried or burnt alive. Liberation is at hand. But what's there to fight for in a city that has lost part of its soul?”

Gulf News’s Marwan Kabalan also expresses misgivings about what might happen once Mosul is liberated, and wonders whether a plan exists for the day after: “The delicate ethnic and sectarian balances across Mosul, coupled with the fragility of the anti-Daesh coalition portend massive problems ahead....The fundamental dilemma hanging over the operation in Mosul, however, is rooted in the lack of a plan to deal with the day following the battle, which itself is raising fears that the events of the 2003 U.S. invasion will repeat themselves....The main worry for many Iraqis is the actions of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Militia (PMM), a group formed by former Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, and affiliated with sectarian parties....The territorial ambitions of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which could lead to an even wider conflict taking place in Iraq, is another cause of concern.”

Similarly, in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Abdulsalam Khanjar poses a series of questions about the future of Mosul , highlighting the difficulty of bringing together the city’s variegated population: “There are many questions in need of answers: Will Mosul’s mosaic population be able to reunite and live together as before? Will Shi’ite militias retreat after Mosul is liberated? Will Sunni Arabs accept the central government — dominated by Shi’ites — to rule them as before? Will Kurds retreat from the land they liberated through the sacrifice of so many Peshmerga lives?...We leave the answers to these questions to the future — the not-too-distant future, as the offensive’s progress looks to be swift. Kurdish Peshmerga forces have retaken over 500 sq.km. of territory and wrested over nine villages from ISIS. According to a statement by many Kurdish commanders, they have met their objectives so far. We will have to wait and see what the Iraqi forces achieve from their side.”

Others, like the Saudi Gazette editorial staff, have turned their attention to the way the war is being covered by the news media: “The current Iraqi-Kurdish attack on Mosul is a reminder of the challenges and shortcomings of the international media. Foreign TV crews have been embedded with Iraqi army units, much as they were when the U.S.-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussain in 2003. At present these journalists are traveling in hard-skinned vehicles driven by probably long-suffering members of the Iraqi army....The journalist on camera under fire becomes the story. The reality of the battle outside is entirely lost. Now it could be argued that news media can never hope to cover everything that happens in war....None of this is to say that the international effort to cover the Mosul attack is wrong. But by seeking to present the conflict in easily digestible sound bites, it merely stokes simplistic views back home. It tells a story, but not THE story. The brutal reality of every battle is all too often missed. It is not simply the dead, the wounded, the refugees, the destruction; it is also the fear and confusion, the bravery and the cowardice and the smell of explosives and putrefaction. Around the world, those who see the war reporting from Mosul or anywhere else need to appreciate its inevitable limitations.”

Meanwhile, according to an Arab News report, relations between Iraq and Turkey have been strained, with a recent spat involving the Turkish foreign minister denouncing “Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi as ‘weak’ on Wednesday, further escalating tensions after Baghdad warned Ankara about provoking a confrontation through deploying tanks near Iraq. Abadi’s remarks were made on Tuesday after Turkey sent a 30-vehicle convoy including artillery to the southeastern district of Silopi, with the Iraqi leader warning that any Turkish ‘invasion’ would prompt a fierce response....As the Turkish convoy moved in, Abadi said Iraq was ‘ready’ for a confrontation with Ankara even though he insisted he did not want to go to war with Turkey....Relations between the two neighbors soured on October 1 after the Turkish Parliament renewed a mandate for its troops to spend another year in Iraq and Syria.”

The heated exchange followed Turkey’s escalating involvement in Iraq, purportedly to root out ISIS fighters from Mosul and surrounding areas. The Hurriyet Daily News staff notes this has provoked ISIS leaders to speak out against Turkey: “The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is reportedly hiding out in the besieged city of Mosul, released his first message since 2015, urging followers to wage all-out war and take the fighting into Saudi Arabia and Turkey....’Turkey entered the zone of your operations, so attack it, destroy its security, and sow horror within it. Put it on your list of battlefields. Turkey entered the war with the Islamic State with cover and protection from Crusader jets,’ he said, referring to the U.S.-led air coalition. ‘Unleash the fire of your anger on Turkish troops in Syria,’ he said in the video, [the] authenticity of which could not be verified.”

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, writing for Asharq Alawsat, doubts Iran will allow Turkey any sway inside Iraq: “The political situation between Turkey and Iraq is at its worst. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated that his forces ‘will strongly participate in liberating Mosul’ from ISIS.... Ankara wants to fight ISIS in Mosul and prevent the fighting from targeting the Turkmen and others. However, Iran is leading the political and military confrontation in Mosul and against Turkey also. We all know that the Iraqi government is helpless. The Iranians succeeded in filling the void in the years that followed … U.S. President Barack Obama’s withdrawal of all his forces. They founded sectarian militias that rival the government and they named them Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi. Their aim was to weaken the central authority as they did in Lebanon, and these militias are now preparing to cross into Syria as well.”


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