Mosul Operation and Obama's Nightmare

Observers of the political scene in Iraq point to the inevitable clash between Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces, and that of the central government in Baghdad in the post –ISILera. This is due to the undisciplined attitude of Hashd al-Shaabi(Popular Mobilization Units-PMU) in the past,divergences over how to form thepost-ISILadministration in Mosul, and the struggle between central government and Kurdish peshmargato grab more land in the so-called disputed territories. The clashing and uncompromising agendas of the groups participating in Mosul operation has a potential to create deadly and wide scale clashes during or right after the end of the operation. This possibility seems to be the last but most costly nightmare of the Obama administration,which, if erupting soon, might cost Democrats a lot in the upcoming presidential elections in the United States.

KRGs Goals and Clashing Designs

The Kurds participated in the Mosul operation for several reasons. Firstly, they want to heed US administration's call for peshmerga to assist the speedy liberation of Mosul before the US election in November. Secondly, they have eyes on the Kurdish districts and have their own design for Mosul plain. As a third reason, they aimed at receivingfinancial aid from the US-led coalition to ease the financial crisis of KRG. Last but not least, they also strive to boost MasudBarzanis image as a leader and strengthen his position for the referendum on the future of KRG.In Mosul, there are 13 administrative sub-units out of a total 25, some of which have already been captured or about to be captured which KRG consider Kurdish majority territories and thus, need to join the KRG. Besides, Barzani has made it clear that he is planning to create a separate province out of Mosul plain, populated mostly by the Christian,Shabak, and Kakai religious minorities and to incorporate it into the KRG. In addition, the KRG leaders have announced that it is their intention to detach the mostly Yezidi inhabited Sinjar district from Mosul province.

All these goals and post-ISIS designs for Mosul are strongly opposed by the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. During the last visit of Barzani to Baghdad last month, several Shiite law-makers fromIslahbloc, whichis led by al-Maliki, had called for the arrest of Barzani.The Shiiteleaders,especiallymilitia's commanders, consider Barzanis designs for the future of Mosul as "provocative and not representing the opinion of the minorities tens of whom have already joined PMU." Karim Nouri, a top commander of the Badr forces, has told Rudaw"Kurds should not even dream of being able to take away any part of Mosul. Touching Mosul's territories is as dangerous as playing with fire."Prime MinisterHaider al-Abadi,on August 17, stated that "Any disputed territories captured by Kurdish Peshmerga from ISIL should be returned to the central government forces." This was followed two days later by a similar statement on the part of Hadi al-Ameri, the most powerful PMU leaderand staunch ally of Nouri al-Maliki, former PM. Such statements had angered Seyyid Mustafa Sheikh Jafar, a top PUK commander who stated "those who want to recapture from us the Kurdish territories recently liberated from ISIL,could only do this over our dead body."

The Position of Iraqi Central Government and the United States

The central government seems to be bent on re-establishing the Shiite dominated administration which existed before the ISIL takeover of the city in 2014. This regime was widely regarded asan exclusive and repressive once. The Sunni Kurds,Turcoman, and Arabs were marginalized,which was referred to as one of the main reasons behind the increasing influence of al-Qaeda and then ISIL in Mosul.

All indications on the horizon point to the central government's intention to repeat this futile experiment. The Kurds and Sunni Arabs are fully aware of this intention and they have made appeals to the US government to make prior arrangements for the post-ISIL administration that need to be acceptable to all concerned parties. The Shiite leaders were adamant that they would not takeBarzanis and Turkey's views into account. The Baghdad officials have given some token assurances that the past human rights and sectarian cleansing practices of the undisciplined PMU will not be repeated in Mosul. It appears that the US government does not want to pressure al-Abadi on this matter for two reasons: Firstly, to enhance al-Abadi'sposition vis-à-visal-Maliki bloc, and secondly to achieve a quickvictoryagainst ISIL in Mosul. The US has already tolerated the PMU's gross violations of human rights and policy of sectarian cleansing in previous clashes which took place in other Sunni Arab towns. These practices and policies of PMU havebeen well-recorded and named by many international organizations as war crimes. The two reasons seem to explain the motivation behind the US's implicit siding with the Iraqi government's stanceregarding Turkey's presence in Bashiqanear Mosul. However, it is a widely held line of argumentation that the presence of this force and Turkey's participation in Mosul operation will deter Iraqi army units and PMU from pursuing their previous policies of sectarian cleansing there.

The Question of Disputed Territories and Post-ISIL Mosul

In mid-August, the Shiite leaders used their majority in the parliament to pass a resolution to the effect that no change would be accepted in Mosul's current administrative status after the expulsion of ISIL. This was a pre-emptive measure to prevent the Sunni Arabs to turn Mosul from a province into an autonomous region with much wider administrative, financial, and security powers. This resolution was in violation of the Iraqi constitution which allowselected councils of provinces in Iraq to change their status by either turning themselves into autonomous regions or joining other already established regions. Besides, this resolution of the parliament was in violation of the article 140 of the constitution which providesthat the KRG has a right to claim disputed territories, including those in Mosul, through normalization and referendum. In addition,in early August the parliament rubber stamped another resolution put forward by the pro-Iranian Reform bloc which considered Turkish troops in Iraq as an occupying force. By using their majority in the Iraqi parliament to pass the two mentioned resolutions, the Shiite National Alliance has further alienated both Kurds and Sunni Arabs.These resolutions arealso clear violations of the principle of consensus which has been argued to be a pillar of governing in the post-Saddam era as clearly stated in the preamble to the Iraqi constitution.

Based on the past experiences, such as the numerous bloody clashes between peshmerga and PMU in Tuzkhurmatuin Salahadin province during 2015, the only place where the two forces are on the ground in close proximity to each other, there is a high risk that the peshmarga and PMU will have an inevitable clash during the Mosul operation or shortly after. There is an equally strong chance for bloody encounter between PMU and Hashd al-Watani (recently renamed to Nineveh Guards), the Sunni militias trained by Turkey inside Mosul.

Taking into consideration that all parties are armed to teeth and have uncompromising stances, any bloody encounter among the forces participating in the Mosul operation may prove to be the last but a very costly nightmare for the Obama administration in terms of its policies vis-à-vis Iraq.


This article was first publishedin ORSAM