Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

To end an endless war

What comes after the capture of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul may be even more chaotic and dangerous than the present situation, writes Salah Nasrawi

Al-Ahram Weekly

When the US Obama administration invited defense and foreign ministers from more than 30 nations to Washington last week, the aim was to push its partners in the International Coalition it assembled two years ago against the Islamic State (IS) terror group to do more in the campaign to beat the group.

The meeting came as Iraqi security forces, aided by the coalition, have been preparing to launch a long-awaited offensive to retake the key northern Iraqi city of Mosul from IS, a move widely trumpeted as a final blow to the terror group in Iraq.

Simultaneously, Washington organised another conference for donor nations to press them to collect over $2 billion for the war against IS and to provide desperately needed humanitarian support and address the grave conditions in its aftermath.

The two meetings also came after the 14 July attack in Nice, which was claimed by IS amid increasing terrorist attacks in Europe, Afghanistan, West Africa and the United States, some of them probably inspired by the jihadist group.

A key issue during the Washington discussions was whether the threat posed by the IS jihadists could be eradicated in Iraq and if that would pave the way to defeating the group worldwide.

Yet, what host US Secretary of State John Kerry termed “an historic effort” to end the war on terrorism could turn out to be another feckless gathering aiming at revamping an alliance which is widely seen as divided and useless.

According to US officials, the Washington gathering was called to hammer out details about how to stabilise and govern Mosul, the last stronghold of IS, in the event that Iraqi security forces retake the city in the coming months.

No details have been disclosed about the outcome of the discussions, but their message was loud and clear: Battlefield successes would not be enough, and the Iraqi government should find ways to boost Sunni participation in the government in post-IS Iraq.

Setbacks in the reconciliation and inclusion of Sunnis could give rise to another Sunni extremist group, many delegates at the meeting warned, urging the Iraqi Shia-led government to draw up a political plan for the post-IS era.

One other message underpinned by US and other Western officials was the need for more information-sharing to counter the militant group’s expanding reach around the world, particularly its ideology and use of social media which have driven an increase in terrorist attacks worldwide.

At the donors meeting, some 26 countries pledged aid totalling about $2.1billion for humanitarian assistance in Iraq. The contributions will support a UN humanitarian response plan in addition to other organisations providing aid in the country.

While part of the finance will go to meeting the anticipated humanitarian crisis following the Mosul campaign, the rest will be used to fund a stabilisation programme and one year of demining activities in cities and areas retaken from IS.

To judge by reactions and the real situation on the ground, the assembled coalition seems to suffer from divisions and disagreements. While its core of Western nations led by the United States seems to pursue the goals set by the organisers, others seem to be less enthusiastic about the intervention.

Britain, Canada and France have announced that they will increase their military contributions to the coalition, including by sending more troops, warplanes and military supplies into Iraq.

On the other hand, key Arab partners such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan remain reluctant to support the Shia-led government in Baghdad, though they still reiterate their commitment to fighting IS.

A statement by the co-hosts of the 20 July Pledging Conference in Support of Iraq said some 26 nations had promised to provide $2.1 billion in aid, but it was not immediately clear if Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners were among the countries contributing to the new plan.

In a sign of discontent, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed disappointment at “the number of countries that participated in the donor conference” for Iraq.

After the meetings, US special envoy for the anti-IS Coalition Brett McGurk travelled to the Gulf in a bid to push the Sunni Arab countries to double their participation in the next steps of the campaign, revealing a serious crack in the coalition.

Meanwhile, this week senior diplomats from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) clashed with their counterparts in Iraq over policy statements at an Arab summit meeting in Mauritania which condemned Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries, including Iraq.

The bickering underlined the deep divisions between the GCC and the Iraqi Shia-led government in Baghdad and its Iranian backers.  

Turkey, which has been a hesitant partner in the coalition since its inception in 2014, did not bother to send representatives to the meetings in Washington. Ankara has a huge contingent of troops in Mosul which Iraq fears will exploit the offensive in the city to make territorial claims. 

Naturally Iran, which plays a crucial role in supporting the Iraqi security forces and the Shia paramilitary forces in the war against IS, was not invited to the meetings.

In Iraq, ethnic and sectarian groups and leaders have remained split over how to conduct the battle of Mosul and the administration of the stabilisation period that follows it, one of the main goals of the meetings in Washington.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who had attended previous high-level meetings of the coalition, did not join the foreign leaders in Washington, signalling that the Shia-led government may not see eye-to-eye with Washington on plans for the offensive in Mosul and its aftermath.

A key concern of the Iraqi Shia-led government is that the pledged aid could be insufficient, that the funding will not be handled by Iraqis, and that it could be used to create Sunni proxies in the liberated areas.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, who led the Iraqi delegation to Washington, said the pledges “do not meet Iraq’s [actual] needs.” Mudhar Mohamed Saleh, a senior economic adviser to Al-Abadi, said donors should show “transparency” in disbursing the funds.

Previous pledges remained “ink on paper,” Saleh told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Friday. He said Iraq may need some $200 billion in aid, including $20 billion for urgent and immediate needs.

The makeup of the Iraqi forces in the Mosul operation remains a subject of serious disagreement among Iraqis. While Al-Abadi and the Shia leaders insist that the Shia-controlled Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF) will take part in the Mosul offensive, the country’s Sunnis and Kurds remain vehemently opposed. 

Sunni Defence Minister Khaled Al-Obeidi underscored the need for political understanding to take place on the offensive and post-IS management before the battle begins.

The absence of a national reconciliation strategy in post-IS Iraq is another matter of concern. Al-Obeidi, who attended the Washington discussions, emphasised this perspective to the sympathetic ears of delegates.  

“Progress in military performance must be paired with progress in the security file,” he tweeted before joining the defense and foreign ministers from the coalition.

Another stumbling block is the role assigned to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the push against Mosul. Last week, the Pentagon signed an agreement with the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG) that would allow Washington to supply funding and military assistance to the Peshmergas for their participation in the Mosul offensive.

But many Shia groups have said they are opposed to the Peshmergas’ participation in the battle, expressing concern that the Kurds may take advantage of the offensive to seize more territory outside their autonomous region.

On Sunday, the Peshmerga Ministry said its forces would not withdraw from areas they had captured following advances made by IS in mid-June 2014. Earlier, the Defense Ministry in Baghdad said the KRG and the United States had agreed that Kurdish forces would withdraw from these areas in order to bring stability to these regions.

Presumably, the Washington meetings were designed to revamp the coalition and push its partners to take responsibility for boosting gains in the war against IS.

Amid increasing terrorism threats in the United States and many Western nations and a mounting migrant crisis, efforts to accelerate the war against IS may become increasingly urgent for Washington and its allies.

Yet, it would be naïve to assume that increasing military involvement ahead of the battle for Mosul and pledges for funds that will mostly go on the operational costs of the international organisations concerned will be tools that can bring peace back to Iraq.

If the results of the Washington meetings are promising, they will have highlighted once again Iraq’s unfinished war and the need to make the country a safer place without the supposed caliphate of IS. (see focus p.7)

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