Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Towards Mosul’s liberation

Reports are growing that the long-awaited liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group may be just around the corner, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad

Al-Ahram Weekly

In late March, the Iraqi government announced the beginning of a military operation to liberate the Nineveh Province and its capital Mosul from occupation by the Islamic State (IS) group. A military communiqué declared that the operation was in its first stage and did not give a date when it would be completed.

Communiqués were then released on a daily basis until mid-April, when the announcements stopped. This was despite the fact that many villages were liberated on the way to Qayyara, 60 km south of Mosul, where IS had many bases and hundreds of families had been evacuated.

Although reports spoke about imminent operations to retake Mosul, it appeared that these had been postponed. However, a report posted on the “Mosul Eye” Facebook page on 2 May said, “As the battles are approaching Mosul’s outskirts, the battle lines are getting closer to areas where IS was once safe.”

One day later, IS forces attacked the village of Tel Asquf, 21 km north of Mosul, and an American soldier was killed. US Defence Department officials later identified the man as Charles H Keating, 31, of San Diego, a special operations operator.

“IS forces breached the [Kurdish] Peshmergas forward lines,” Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US Operation Inherent Resolve, which is assisting Iraqi forces, told reporters in Baghdad. “The Americans there became involved in the ensuing firefight and called in a quick-reaction force.”

Warren described the American service members as a “group of very well-armed, very well-equipped, very well-trained men whose mission is to stand by, stand at the ready, when American forces are operating.”

According to American reports, hundreds of Peshmergas fighters are being trained for the upcoming Mosul battle. Other reports have spoken about thousands of Sunni Arab tribe members from Nineveh being trained for the battle, some of them led by Athil Nujaify, the former governor of the province.

These men, called hashd watani (national volunteers), are being trained by Turkish troops, reports say. There are also Turkmen volunteers from Tel Afer and Christian volunteers either with the hashd watani or with the Peshmergas.

“The United States does not want the credit for the Nineveh liberation to go to either the Arabs or the Kurds, so it prefers the liberation to be through the action of joint forces,” said Hashim Al-Hashimi, an expert on IS.

“However, the US knows that there are difficulties in putting the Nineveh Liberation Forces, the Peshmergas, the Nineveh volunteers and the hashd together, so Baghdad has surrendered to Washington and the hashd have not participated in the military operations.”

The battles in southern Mosul will be limited until Washington reaches agreement with the rival forces that are using the campaign as a way to continue ethnic and sectarian clashes, an Iraqi expert told Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity.

The ambiguous situation of the operations against Mosul have made many think they could be a trick to draw IS attention away from Fallujah in Anbar Province, which is also the target of a military campaign.

Abdel-Karim Khalaf, a military and security expert, however, told the Weekly that the Mosul operation is not a decoy. He said that there are “real ground operations targeting a headquarters for the coming operations that need to make Makhmour, 50 km southeast of Mosul, where the Iraqi forces deployed last October, and its surrounding areas secure.”

The operations forced IS to abandon the eastern bank of Qayyara and prevented IS artillery from reaching Makhmour. “The battle of Fallujah has been delayed because of political disagreements,” Khalaf said. “After Fallujah, Mosul will be next, and the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Forces, 9th Armoured Division and new 16th Division will finish their tasks there.”

An Iraqi parliamentarian from the Reform Bloc said in a TV interview this week that the government has temporarily stopped the Mosul operations in response to an American demand that they take place after the US presidential elections.

However, Khalaf said there has been no such demand from the Americans. “The liberation of Mosul will take place after the liberation of Fallujah,” he said. “The important issue is that the US-led coalition air strikes cut the road between Mosul and Raqqa, where the battle has already begun against IS under American direction.”

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