Mosul and beyond, Erdoğan and al-Abadi, Obama and Putin
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced early on Oct. 17 that an offensive had begun to retake Mosul, the country’s second biggest city, from under the occupation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The latter issue was a bogeyman al-Abadi created a few weeks ago, perhaps in order to encourage his own troops and also to send a “don’t worry” message to Tehran.
A few Turkish troops have been stationed in the Bashiqa camp near Mosul, there to train Sunni Arab and Turkmen militia against ISIL, (as invited by al-Abadi himself in December 2014). They are also there to protect the camp from attacks by ISIL and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Neither their mission nor their numbers and equipment were suitable to join any ground operation.
Al-Abadi knew that, but perhaps he came out with his remarks in order to avoid looking like he was kneeling down to the terrible Turk. Such a move would not have been possible without the support of the U.S. and Iran.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, is sticking to the line that Turkey will not leave the Bashiqa camp, despite Iraqi demands. He knows, as the commander-in-chief of the Turkish military, that the understanding already reached with the Americans is for the Turkish soldiers to stay in Bashiqa and to not move a meter out of it.
The U.S. has joined the chorus, stressing that neither the PKK nor its “affiliates” would take part in the Mosul operation. That was a reference to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a PKK affiliate in Syria that the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been using as ground units against ISIL in Syria, despite repeated objections from its ally Turkey. CENTCOM needs those “PKK affiliates” to fight in Raqqa (in Syria), and this also fits with Baghdad’s line that no forces other than the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police would be entering Mosul when it is cleared of ISIL.
This also means that no Shiite militia supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards is taking part in retaking Mosul from ISIL, at least not on paper.
According to the military planning, fine-tuned by the top soldiers of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition (including Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar), the Iraqi Kurdish forces will not get within five kilometers of Mosul, while the Ninova Volunteers (partly trained by the Turks in Bashiqa) will not get within two kilometers of it.
The rest will be carried out by U.S., French and other coalition planes (operating from Kuwait) from the air, with artillery and Iraqi troops and police on the ground.
Some 40,000 of those same Iraqi troops and police abandoned Mosul to just 1,100 ISIL militants on the night of June 10, 2014, leaving behind their military vehicles, equipment, weapons and ammunition.
There are two other interesting points about the retaking of Mosul.
Firstly, a day before al-Abadi’s launching of the Mosul operation, the Turkish military said the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militia, supported by Turkey, had taken Dabiq from ISIL. Dabiq is only a large village but it has deep historical and strategic importance for ISIL because of its place in Islamic belief of the apocalypse.
Secondly, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government made the first open remark on Mosul on Oct. 16, a day after the beginning of the bombing campaign on ISIL targets in Mosul by the U.S. and French military.
Moscow thinks the Mosul case is no different than the bombing of Aleppo, which now constitutes the main rift between Russia and the West over Syria. The fact that Mosul is only occupied by ISIL and Aleppo is not is irrelevant in the eyes of the Kremlin.
The Mosul operation is a key one regarding the disintegration of ISIL, as well as the future of Iraq, Syria, and the entire Middle East.
But the last three decades show that if West-supported governments in the region fail to fight corruption and religious sectarianism, new and more radical terrorist movements emerge. That should be a lesson for both the U.S. and Iraq after taking Mosul from ISIL.