The Battle for Mosul started on Cctober 16th, two years after the city fell into the hands of the militants providing them with equipment and manpower to prolong the war. With the complete encirclement of the city the regular forces were ready to move in, while police operations in the nearby villages and small towns cleaned up the last pockets of terrorist resistance.
“You shall have it”. These three words by French President Clemenceau concluded the handing over of Mosul to Great Britain during the Sykes-Picot talks, thus beginning the modern chapter of this city and region. Mosul has always performed a pivotal role in the region. At the time, Britain sought it out for the oil found in the region, and the city rapidly developed to become one of the largest in Iraq. During the 2003 Gulf War, Mosul was identified as one of the key objectives of the coalition, giving its holder effective control of the country’s northern part, and the pipelines that passed through it.
The elephant in the room is therefore the aftermath of today’s events. With Iraq’s Reconquista of its territories, what will be the attitude of the government towards its wartime allies, such as the Shiite militias and the Kurdish fighters? As we have witnessed in Libya, armed militias may prove to be the undoing of any possible stability in the territory, Baghdad will therefore have to play a very careful hand when trying to disarm the irregular fighters.
It is no surprise that when the Islamic State started its Anbar Campaign in December 2013 and broke into Iraq, the conquest of the city became their priority. IS found large swaths of territory ripe for the taking, as the Iraqi army proved to be completely ineffective in the early stages of the conflict. This comes as a surprise considering that the US channeled around 18.6$bn USD worth of equipment and training into the Iraqi armed forces. Yet, the Iraqi army suffered of a serious lack of leadership; the victorious coalition issued an order effectively decapitating the officer corps of the army. The consequences were two-fold; on the one hand, the army found itself with no leadership, and on the other the disgruntled Baathist officers joined either resistance groups or IS. “ISIL, as an organization, would not exist without former Baathists,” says Iraq analyst Sajad Jiyad, from the al-Bayan Center for Studies & Planning in Baghdad. Mr. Jiyad estimates that more than 25 of ISIL’s most prominent leaders in the last years were previously Baathists.
Battle for Mosul
IS seemed unstoppable, but on June the 14th, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gave the order to stand ground in Samara, 125km north of Baghdad, defining it as “the gathering station of our troops to cleanse every inch that was desecrated by footsteps of those traitors”.
Two years later, IS is on the defensive everywhere. The Iraqi army has enchained a string of victories and has now laid siege to Mosul, the last major foothold of Daesh in the country. After liberating Tikrit and Fallujah in April 2015 and June 2016 respectively, the Iraqi army and its allies opened a way to Mosul. Advancing from the South-East, the Iraqi regulars are supported by the Shia militias and the Peshmerga fighters closing in from the North.
The Battle for Mosul started on October 16th, two years after the city fell in the hands of the militants providing them with equipment and manpower to prolong the war. With the complete encirclement of the city the regular forces were ready to move in, while police operations in the nearby villages and small towns cleaned up the last pockets of terrorist resistance. The Islamic State is said to have sent reinforcements from Syria to help defend their last stronghold in Iraq, but unless the unthinkable happens, the fall of the city is merely a question of when.
It is the government of Baghdad’s desire to be the one responsible for the liberation of the city and the reasons are many. On the one hand, it would legitimize the resurgence of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi state. On the other hand, there is fear of possible repercussions on the city’s Sunni population if the Kurds and the allied militias were to enter Mosul.
Another important task that the government of al-Maliki will have to oversee is the treatment of the populations that lived under the rule of Daesh, and the eventual (un)willing cooperators. In August 2016, the Iraqi parliament passed an amnesty bill, offering a general amnesty to tens of thousands of political prisoners, among those are some accused of terrorism. This marks a very important albeit highly debated step towards reconciliation that the Shiite government of al-Maliki is willing to take. Whether this amnesty offer will be expanded to citizens that may have collaborated on a small scale with the terrorists is something that only time will tell.
From where we stand now, the future of Iraq is shrouded in doubt. Answers to our questions will come in a timely fashion and will help us determine whether the country is ready to walk on its own and leave the appellation of “weak state” behind. The initiatives of Nuri al-Maliki coupled with the patriotic and national unity that the war against Daesh spurred give us however a sense of warmth and hope for the history that will be written in the next couple of years.