Mosul: Planning for the Day After

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Views from the Region

The campaign to liberate Iraq’s second city, Mosul, from the tyrannical rule of ISIS is intensifying. But many regional observers harbor serious concerns about the ability of the Iraqi central government to handle the aftermath. A multitude of local and international actors have a stake in crafting a viable plan for a sustainable peace, but each party is concerned about the gains of the other, viewing the peace as a zero-sum game. Beyond the logistical difficulties that will accompany any effort to resettle the city, the question of the balance between the different sects and regional actors is likely to present decision makers with a very unstable peace.

According to Jordan Times’s Osama Al Sharif, the successful liberation of Mosul would have the potential to shift the current balance of power within Iraq: “The outcome of the battle to recapture Mosul from Daesh, which appears to have started already, will trigger a number of variables that will eventually impact the future of Iraq as a country, the fate of Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran’s influence over the Baghdad government and the Sunni-Shiite showdown…. Abadi’s support for the PMU is unshakeable even as Sunni leaders in Baghdad complain about their crimes and atrocities….In the case of the US, whose strategy in Iraq has been focused on fighting Daesh and not influencing local politics, the liberation of Mosul will end its role in Iraq, leaving the country to face turmoil and possible partition. The fall of the city will give Iran more power to implement a sinister policy of demographic reshuffle that falls within a grand scheme of weakening the Sunni component’s presence and influence over the political process. For the Kurds, the defeat of Daesh will bring to the forefront the issue of seceding from Iraq and setting up their independent state on new territory — equivalent to about 50 per cent of the size of their recognized autonomous zone — that they believe they had rightly won.”

As seen in this Iraq News article, Turkey has also expressed concerns about possible gains by the Kurdish peshmerga, fearing that it could embolden Kurdish secessionists within Turkey: “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Tuesday of a new humanitarian crisis, with the launch of liberalization operations of Mosul from ISIS control, calling to mind the ‘sensitivity’ of the demographic diversity in the city, while he emphasized the need not to leave Iraq alone in the face of ‘terrorism’….Erdogan in his speech at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, said, ‘It will not be easy to create a political system that protects the sectarian and ethnic diversity in Iraq … otherwise a new humanitarian crisis will arise in the city’.”

Erdogan’s warnings come a week after Hurriyet Daily News reported that Turkey’s parliament has been asked to approve an extension and expansion of Ankara’s military involvement in Iraq and Syria: “The government submitted a comprehensive motion to parliament on Sept. 20 to extend the one-year mandate authorizing the deployment of the Turkish army into Iraq and Syria and allowing the deployment of foreign troops on Turkish soil, providing the necessary legality for Turkey’s contribution to the international coalition’s efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)….The proposal also recalled that PKK elements are continuing their presence in northern Iraq, stressing that both ISIL in northern Syria and the PKK have carried out attacks against Turkey. The motion underlined the continuation of Turkey’s activities as part of the international coalition that was established for the struggle against ISIL and other terrorist organizations.”

The Iraq that is likely to emerge following the liberation of Mosul will undoubtedly be complicated and fragile. This is the reason why Munqith Al Dagher, in an op-ed for the National, suggests a technocratic interim government whose role would be to clear the way for fair and free local elections: “There is no doubt that ISIL will be defeated soon. Yet the extremist ideology it propagates throughout the region will persist if we do not address its root causes. The US military stated this week that it anticipates Mosul will be liberated by the end of the year. Arguably though, the real battle to defeat ISIL will only become more complicated when Iraq’s second largest city is freed….people in Mosul despised the Shia-led government and their militias who committed atrocities. But if the same politicians come back to run Mosul after it is liberated, anger and resentment will spread and will provide the conditions for terrorism to flourish. To prevent this, we need to address their concerns and avoid the mistakes of the past. This entails adopting a strategy to empower Mosul’s people by giving them more authority over their lives….All interested parties should agree on an interim local government of technocrats with no more than a two-year mandate. All members of this government should commit not to run in the next round of elections.”

Writing for Al Jazeera, Michael Knights sets the battle for Mosul (and the debate about the day after its liberation) against the backdrop of a larger discussion about regional decentralization taking place in Iraq: “Now, the battle of Mosul is nearing, and the city might even be liberated before year’s end. Already, there is an open debate on whether Nineveh province, centered on Mosul, should become a KRI-style region encompassing multiple new provinces. There’s some value to this idea. Urban Mosul and rural Arab Nineveh are led and populated by very distinct social and tribal groups, respectively….One day, this might be a reality, but it is arguably too early — and too dangerous — to seriously debate this issue today. Moslawis will be in a state of shock when they are liberated, and they will be keenly watching to see if the return of outside forces is in their interest or not. This is a time for reassuring small steps in the right direction, not for the earth-shattering redrawing of the map….But today is arguably one of the least promising moments due to the extraordinary fragility of the country and the political discord in Baghdad and the KRI (Kurdish Region of Iraq).”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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