A lot at stake in the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State

The city is Baghdad’s chief strategic, political and economic objective in the struggle for Iraq

Iraq’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi speaks on state TV on Sunday as he announces the start of an offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State. Photoghraph: Office of Iraqi prime minister

Iraq’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi speaks on state TV on Sunday as he announces the start of an offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State. Photoghraph: Office of Iraqi prime minister

 

Preparing for the battle to drive Islamic State from Mosul has taken Baghdad and its problematic allies more than 30 months since the Iraqi army’s humiliating rout by the jihadis in June 2014.

While Iraq’s prime minister Haidar al-Abadi has pledged to retake Mosul by the end of the year, early victory depends on whether Islamic State decides to fight or flee to Syria or Turkey.

To pre-empt a mass influx of fighters, Damascus and its allies are likely to mobilise forces along Syria’s frontier with Iraq to kill or capture fugitives.

Mosul is Baghdad’s chief strategic, political, and economic objective in the ongoing struggle for Iraq. Once Iraq’s second-largest city, it is strategically situated on the banks of the Tigris river in Nineveh province near the borders of Iraq’s Kurdish region, as well as those of Turkey and Syria.

While Islamic State, also known as Isis, has been in occupation, its leaders and fighters have moved freely between Mosul and Raqqa, the terror group’s capital in neighbouring Syria, effectively erasing the border between the two countries.

Before the jihadi occupation, Mosul had a mixed population of sects and ethnic groups, setting a positive example for cities, towns and villages where there had been communal cleansing following the US occupation of Iraq.

The Qayyara oilfields and the export pipeline carrying Iraqi oil to Turkey are located near Mosul, which was also a major industrial zone and trading centre.

Uproot

Having recaptured 40 per cent of Iraqi territory seized by Islamic State, Baghdad is determined to uproot the jihadi group and re-impose its rule on the entire country. Radical Sunni Islamic State poses the main threat to Iraq’s post-US occupation order involving rule by a pro-Iranian Shia fundamentalist regime.

Ironically, both Washington and its regional rival, Tehran, are prepared to do their utmost to maintain and strengthen this order. To achieve this end, the US trains, arms and advises the Iraqi military while Iran performs the same services for Shia militias in the Popular Mobilisation Forces deployed in this and earlier campaigns.

The Kurds seek to counter Islamic State designs on the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region and its annexation to the Mosul-based jihadi “caliphate” proclaimed in 2014. Turkey, which also claims to be the protector of Iraq’s Turkoman (ethnic Turk) minority, insists on assuming a role in the battle.

Having funnelled fighters, arms and funds for Islamic State into Syria and Iraq, Turkey has been repaid with bombs in Istanbul and Ankara and covert jihadi cells in cities.

Leaflets dropped by the Iraqi government have warned up to one million residents trapped in Mosul to remain in their homes, risking deprivation during the coming siege and death and injury if urban warfare is unleashed.

Baghdad and UN humanitarian agencies fear an overwhelming civilian exodus from Mosul. Eight camps provided to receive those fleeing fighting can accommodate just 100,000, and Iraq already has 3.5 million displaced, many of them Sunnis living in miserable camps.

Agendas

Unfortunately, components of the anti-Islamic State coalition involved in the campaign have destructive post-Mosul agendas. Baghdad seeks national unity under the current sectarian regime. Vying for influence with this dysfunctional regime, the US and Iran allow it to continue marginalising and mistreating Sunnis, even though discrimination against and abuse of Sunnis led to the rise of al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

The Kurds have declared their intention of demanding special treatment for Kurds living in Mosul and have vowed to keep territory they occupy during the battle, although this belongs to Nineveh governorate.

Ankara speaks of protecting the rights of Turkomen who demand a separate region. Yazidi, Sunni and Shia communities also seek to carve out their own areas and enjoy the protection of competing armed elements, ensuring constant conflict, say Mosul residents.

To fend off post-liberation demands and division, fearful citizens of Mosul appeal for their voices to be heard and argue the situation could become worse than under Islamic State.

They are using the Mosul Eye website to appeal to the global community for temporary “international trusteeship” that would guarantee the unity of Nineveh province within its natural borders until politicians emerge who can administer the city and province properly and prevent warfare.

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