Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Whose victory is in Mosul, anyway?

As Mosul is liberated, many people seek to take credit for the victory, writes Salah Nasrawi


Whose victory is in Mosul, anyway?
Whose victory is in Mosul, anyway?

When the northern Iraqi city of Mosul fell to the Islamic State (IS) terror group in summer 2014, no one was willing to accept responsibility for the devastating failure of the Iraqi security forces.

Now that the whole of Iraq’s second-largest city has been finally retaken from the militants after nine months of fierce fighting, many people are seeking credit for the victory.

Some are even trying to belittle Iraq’s great victory with the idea that the success was hardly the result of the extraordinary skills and bravery of the Iraqi soldiers but of other factors, such as the American role in the war.

While the row reflects conventional wisdom that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan, the discrepancy between the two views echoes the struggle over Iraq’s future.  

The victory against IS in Mosul has meant that tens of thousands of Iraqis who displayed exceptional valour in the fight to kick the terrorists out from the city, in particular the fallen heroes, may not get the credit they rightly deserve for the success.

Three branches of Iraq’s security forces – the army, the counter-terrorism forces and the federal police – have done most of the actual fighting in Mosul.

The Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF), a broad range of Shia paramilitary groups which helped secure the vast western desert area of the country by retaking several villages and towns from IS, has also claimed credit.

No doubt, the US-led international coalition which provided enormous air-fire, training, intelligence, weapons and logistical support in the war against IS will also claim a share in the credit for the victory.

However, a boastful trend has been identified since it became clear that Iraqi forces were poised to declare victory, in which the various sides began jockeying for position to take the credit for the successes experienced by the Iraqi forces.

The bragging has served as a reminder that the successful conclusion of the Mosul campaign is a historic achievement against a barbarian group which had hoped to establish its “caliphate” in Mosul.    

Within the ranks of the Iraqi forces the nine-month campaign is nothing short of an epic of urban warfare that military forces across the world can now draw lessons from.

The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), the Emergency Response Division (ERD) and the Federal Police Units (FPU) that spearheaded the Mosul offensive have grown in stature with expectations that their influence will rise even further in Iraq. 

The units have not waited to publicise their involvement in the fighting and the sacrifices they have made.

Commander of the FPU Raed Shawkat declared “mission accomplished” in Mosul several times even when CTS units were still engaged in heavy fighting with IS in downtown Mosul.

The Mosul victory was also good for the Iran-backed PMF, which did not participate directly in liberating the city in order to try to deny the American forces an opportunity to take credit for the Iraqi success.

Spokesman for the PMF Kareem Al-Nouri said that the Iraqi forces had managed to liberate Mosul “entirely without any intervention by the Americans or the [US-led] international coalition”.

“Iranian military experts played a constructive role in this achievement,” Al-Nouri told the Iranian news agency Mehr, echoing boastful statements by Iranian leaders who insinuated a connection precluding the Americans being involved.

Iraqi Kurdish officials also have had their share of the celebrations by emphasising the contributions made by the Kurdish Peshmergas in the fighting, though an agreement reached with Baghdad and brokered by Washington gave them a limited role prior to the battle for Mosul.

The day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared an end to the IS “caliphate” on 29 June, Kurdish politician Hoshyar Zebari tweeted “special thanks to US-led coalition for critical air and ground support. A fact always ignored by the Iraqi government.”

The tweet by Zebari, a former foreign and finance minister in the Baghdad government who was sacked on charges of corruption, was code for downplaying the Iraqi military victory and giving the credit to US forces.

Meanwhile, the Americans have had their own way of taking pride in the accomplishments of the Iraqi soldiers by trumpeting the increasingly prominent role played by US troops in the fighting.

While American commanders and officials have tried to take a low profile and confine the US role to supporting the Iraqis, the US media has tried to underscore the essential role played by the coalition in defeating IS.

Last Saturday, Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the international coalition, tweeted that he was coming to Baghdad to congratulate Al-Abadi and the Iraqi forces on their “heroic advances” throughout the Mosul campaign.

But the US media has remained cautious even as IS has been seen to be beaten in Mosul by concluding that the celebrations will be “short-lived” due to what it has termed “the fragility” of the Iraqi security forces.

These many different views and statements cannot hide the political agendas involved, and they predict both the positions and the strategic behaviour of the parties. 

For Al-Abadi, the declaration of “mission accomplished” will make him feel vindicated by the approach he has taken to rely largely on the Iraqi security forces in the Mosul offensive.

Moreover, the successes will help Al-Abadi to maximise the political benefits of the victory as Iraq heads towards parliamentary elections next year.

As for the PMF, the victory over IS will underscore the show of force it has been mounting in the war against IS, using this to boost its image and thus fuel the proliferation of the Shia militias.

Iran can certainly rejoice as a result.

The Iraqi Kurdistan leadership which has drummed up the Peshmergas’ largely peripheral role in the fight against IS could continue to claim its share in the victory in order to boost its partnership in the anti-IS international alliance.

It hopes that this will help it to sustain its territorial and political gains, especially its seizure of huge swathes of territory in northern Iraq following IS advances in 2014 which it declared as part of its future independent state.

On the US side, by claiming it deserves the credit for the victory against IS Washington hopes there will be a boost in confidence in its leadership of the international anti-terrorism campaign.

Militarily, the United States can claim the efficacy and competence of its forces and weapons in the battle, and politically and strategically it could guarantee itself a future in post-IS Iraq.

Self-serving claims aside, the victory in Mosul will be a turning point in the struggle for the Middle East, in which local, regional and international players are still jockeying for power.  

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