July 22, 2016

Iraqis plan to retake Mosul without the Kurds?

"We won’t let Peshmerga take part in Mosul’s liberation"
                                                      --- Iraqi defense minister

A few weeks after the Iraqi recapture of the city of al-Fallujah from fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Iraqis continue the rhetoric that the liberation of Mosul (al-Mawsil) is currently underway, and that the city will be under Iraqi government control by the end of this year.

The claim that the liberation is underway is technically true - the United States is adding up to a thousand more troops in staging areas south of the city to provide not only intelligence, communications, and logistics, but fire support as well. U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps long range artillery and rocket launchers are providing accurate fires to support Iraqi security forces preparing the battlefield for the eventual assault on Mosul.

That said, I remain skeptical that the Iraqi security forces - that includes the Iraqi armed forces, special police units, and the Kurdish peshmerga - will be able to secure the liberation of Mosul by the end of the year. These security forces have usually been augmented by the Popular Mobilization Units (sometimes referred to as the Popular Mobilization Forces), which are in reality Iranian-supported, trained and at times even led Shi'a militias.

Of the forces available to Baghdad, the Kurdish peshmerga are considered the most capable fighters, despite constantly being under-equipped and poorly supported by the government. The peshmerga have demonstrated their ability to fight ISIS, especially in the northern part of Iraq where they have legally established a Kurdish autonomous region, the Kurdistan Region. Mosul borders this autonomous region - the front lines between the ISIS-controlled area and the government-controlled area are manned by the Kurds.

In an interview today while on a visit to Washington, Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-'Ubaydi (commonly rendered in the press as al-Obeidi) made the surprising pronouncement that the peshmerga fighters will not only be proscribed from entering the city of Mosul, they will not participate at all in the liberation effort.

Not using what are arguably the best fighters in the Iraqi security forces, who would be operating on or near their home turf, is puzzling. Perhaps when he returns to Baghdad, the Iraqi general staff will enlighten the minister - who is not a professional military officer - on the reality of mounting this large offensive without the peshmerga.

The security situation in the environs of Baghdad also play a role in Iraqi military planning. The successful, albeit slow, recapture of the city if al-Fallujah to the west of Baghdad was portrayed as necessary to increase security in the capital. It was thought that many of the deadly bombings in Baghdad were staged from al-Fallujah. The fallacy of that assumption was exposed when a suicide bombing only a week later killed almost 300 residents in Karradah, an upscale Shi'a neighborhood. An additional 51 people have been killed since then, despite ISIS's removal from all of al-Anbar province.

The Iraqis not only have to continue planning and preparations for the Mosul campaign, they must provide security for the residents of Baghdad. They will be hard pressed to do both if they do not use some of their best fighters in the assault on Mosul.

I suspect that al-'Ubaydi will be forced to reconsider what was an ill-advised comment.