NATO’s concerns over upcoming Mosul operation

NATO’s concerns over upcoming Mosul operation

Serkan Demirtaş
NATO’s concerns over upcoming Mosul operation

AFP photo

“Raqqa is also important, but Mosul is key,” a senior NATO official speaking on condition of anonymity told me while explaining why liberating Iraq’s second-largest town from the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will be a turning point in the fight against one of the bloodiest terror organizations ever. 

“ISIL uses territory for many of its objectives: to generate income and human resources, train its terrorists and for propaganda activities. But also having territories do help their narrative of being a state, the Islamic State,” the official underlined. Although ISIL has more territories in Syria than in Iraq, it’s believed that the organization still has its fundamental bodies and top leaders in the latter. Thanks to the anti-ISIL coalition’s intensified air strikes, it has lost around 40 percent of the territory it has been controlling in the last year. 

But more has to be done to defeat ISIL. “Progress is being made,” the official said, referring to ongoing preparations for the much-anticipated operation to free Mosul from ISIL. Although NATO, institutionally, has not been involved in the anti-ISIL fight in Iraq and Syria, it’s indirectly in the business as all of its members are part of the coalition. 

So that’s why it supports the aerial campaign of the coalition members by providing additional surveillance capability while also continuing to draw the attention of allies to the difficulties during and after such a massive operation to Mosul. The first aspect the NATO official pointed out is the fact that it is not only the Iraqi government and the international coalition that are preparing for an offensive.
“DAESH [the Arabic acronym of ISIL] has also been getting ready for it for the last two years. Everybody should be very sure that it will be very difficult,” the official stressed. 

According to the official, the international community should take these points into consideration before any Mosul operation: 

-The international community should be ready for the humanitarian consequences of the operation and should be ready to assist the Iraqi government. 

-The operation, itself, will be very difficult. The international community should be aware that the operation will not be an easy one. 

-Another point is about the post-operation consequences. There could be some security risks in the aftermath of freeing Mosul as many ISIL jihadists may flee to other regional countries to pose threats. Likewise, the organization may renew its instructions to cells in the West to launch attacks in places where they are located. Therefore there is a need to enhance intelligence capabilities. 

-The last point is the fact that there are a huge number of armed groups in Iraq and some of them are well-armed and radicalized. So what will come after the liberation of Mosul is also a concern. This problem is not only observed by NATO but by other international organizations, something the United Nations has already been dealing with. 

However, this last point is not being regarded as a problem by the Iraqi government. Iraqi Ambassador to Belgium Dr. Jawad al-Chlaihawi, in a meeting at NATO headquarters, underlined that liberating Mosul was not only one group’s cause but all of Iraq’s. “Everybody wants to participate in the operation; tribal armed forces, Kurdish pehmergas. This is a reflection of togetherness,” he said. 

He also tried to sooth the concerns over a power fight for Mosul between different factions, saying: “How will Mosul be governed? It will be governed by a council that represents all ethnicities. It won’t be on an ideological basis.” 

But al-Chlaiwahi didn’t signal an imminent operation on Mosul. “The decision to free Mosul will be taken when the circumstances are right. Sometimes you have to be patient. We should do it when all the circumstances are right, militarily and politically,” he stated. 

Recalling that the Iraqi army was able to free Falluja and Anbar provinces from ISIL in recent months, the ambassador drew attention to the right time to launch an operation like that.    

It openly seems we are heading towards a historical turning point in the Middle East as operations on Raqqa and Mosul will likely determine the future of the region and all surrounding countries.