D-day looms for Mosul battle but questions remain

LONDON — More than two years after the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State, the battle to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city appears imminent.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in September that he expected the military offensive in Mosul to begin in October, al­though in later pronouncements he said he would decide at “the last minute” when to give the go-ahead.

British Defense Secretary Mi­chael Fallon said the operation to liberate Mosul would begin “within weeks” and French De­fense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “There will soon be the main attack.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military of­fensive would begin Oct. 19.

Iraqi officials said they expected the liberation to be swift and un­complicated.

“The capture of Mosul will be finished in record-breaking time,” spokesman for the Iraqi army, Gen­. Yahya Rasool, told the Finan­cial Times.

Optimism was also expressed by Abadi in a recent interview with CNN.

“Mosul is supposed to be easier than these other cities outside Mo­sul, which we’ve been liberating, because these are the outskirts,” Abadi said. “They’re supposed to be more pro-Daesh than the city itself,” he added, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

“We are planning for a fight for many months but we anticipate the fight for Mosul will be easier than probably Ramadi.”

The United States leads the anti-IS coalition that provided Iraq with air cover, trained its soldiers and sent 5,000 troops — mainly military advisers — to Iraq. U.S. offi­cials said Iraqi forces are ready for the Mosul offensive.

Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. said in September that Iraqi forces “will have in early October all the forces marshalled, trained, fielded and equipped that are nec­essary for operations in Mosul.”

Observers, however, said they fear complications during and af­ter the liberation of Mosul.

Reports from Mosul indicate that IS has tightened its grip on the ci­vilian population it is holding hos­tage in the city and is not expected to leave without bloodshed, boo­by traps and “tunnels of fire.”

The United Nations and aid agencies have said they are not ready to cope with the hundreds of thousands of people expected to be displaced once the offensive begins in Mosul, which is home to around 1.5 million people.

The Save the Children charity warned that the assault threatens “to put more than half a million children in the line of fire unless safe routes and other civilian pro­tection measures are put in place.”

Authorities in Iraq’s Kurdish re­gion, which already hosts some 1.5 million internally displaced peo­ple, warned that they might not receive more people if they did not receive additional aid.

There is also the issue of co­ordination between the various military forces, which include the U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi Army, various Iran-backed Shia militias fighting under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Arab Sunni fighters and tribesmen.

“Despite talks of coordination between the many factions, the fact remains that there is no uni­fied military command,” said Sa­bah al-Mukhtar, president of the London-based Arab Lawyers As­sociation. “If there are indeed any agreements, who is going to en­force them?”

U.S. warplanes, coordinating with the Iraqi government, mistakenly killed 21 Arab Sunni fighters, in a strike on Kharaib Jabr village, south of Mosul on Wednesday.

Arab Sunni fighters have long complained of receiving insuffi­cient materiel and military support from the authorities, unlike their Kurdish or Shia counterparts. They play an important role in the anti-IS offensive, as most of the city’s inhabitants are also Sunni Arabs, but they remain far too weak to liberate the city alone.

The Iraqi Army, which is en­trusted with the major role of the offensive inside Mosul, may not be strong enough to do the job alone. Although the army is more trusted by the local population than the PMF, “it is still not viewed as a national army for all Iraqis,” Mukhtar said.

The PMF is said to be prohibited by the government from enter­ing Mosul for fear its forces might carry out indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population in the city, following allegations of atrocities in other areas liberated from IS.

Human Rights Watch urged the Iraqi government to prevent Shia militias “implicated in laws of war violations” from taking part in operations in Mosul, and to “take steps to protect civilians fleeing and in camps from revenge at­tacks.”

“The last thing the authorities should allow is for abusive forces to carry out revenge attacks in an atmosphere of impunity,” said Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa.

It remains unknown what will happen if the PMF, which is tak­ing part in operations in rural areas around Mosul, decides to enter the city.

There are fears over the role that will be played by Peshmerga forces as Kurdish officials have openly said they will hold on to territories they view as theirs, though they have denied having any design on Mosul.

Baghdad, however, remains wary. “The aim of the battle should not be territorial conflicts but to free the citizens from the persecu­tion of ISIS,” Abadi warned.

This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

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