The Battle for Mosul Begins

 

The offensive on Mosul is beginning. Over the weekend, US and French jets pounded ISIS positions east of Mosul and began shelling ISIS positions, paving the way for a ground offensive. This morning, Kurdish forces began advancing on villages east of the city.

Over the weekend, ISIS killed 53 people in three separate attacks in Iraq, including a suicide bombing in Baghdad. Conditions in Mosul are dire, and will no doubt get far worse; if Mosul is laid waste, another million and a half refugees will pour into the region and beyond. (It’s unclear what the population of Mosul is now; there were two million people there before it was captured by ISIS, but as many as a million have already fled.) 

The Pentagon recently announced the deployment of 615 more American troops to aid in the recapture. This brings the number of US personnel there to more than 5,262.

What has observers most worried is the ostensible lack of planning for the aftermath. In February 2015, nearly two years ago, Michael Knights and Michael Pregent (both excellent analysts) wrote a piece for Foreign Policy called How to Retake Mosul from the Islamic State. Their concerns are still apt. It’s worth reading the whole thing. Getting back into Mosul, they wrote, will be fraught with risk — but that’s probably the easiest part:

Mosul is the first battlefield in Iraq where all three major ethnosectarian blocs will converge upon one city, bringing their own agendas into the operation. Do the Kurds want the Iraqi Army back on their doorstep? Do local Sunnis want a new flood of strangers from Shiite southern Iraq policing their city? What happens if Shiite militiamen and volunteers enter the fight or if any of the liberating forces begin to punish suspected Islamic State collaborators within the population? Does the incursion occur in such a way as to splinter local Sunnis from the Islamic State or drive them together?

These questions matter because Mosul’s Sunni population has the muscle to determine the city’s fate. Thus far, with no help in sight, anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 Islamic State fighters have dominated the city’s population. But there are probably well over 100,000 military-age males in Mosul with AK-47s in their closets who haven’t picked sides yet and are waiting to see what the government can offer them to fight the Islamic State. They have been betrayed by Baghdad before and will need strong reassurance, backed by the international community, that they will not be reoccupied by security forces alien to the city. But if the Iraqi government can assuage their fears, they could still yet join the fight against the Islamic State.

The region’s escalating ethnic and sectarian hostilities make this particularly fraught. The Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, Iran, Iranian-backed Shiite militias, Sunni fighters, and the United States will all be converging on the city at once. Erdoğan is insisting that Turkey, too, will take part in the battle even though the Iraqi government is categorically opposed. (In the early 1920s, when the Ottoman Empire was partitioned, Turkey claimed Mosul. The League of Nations awarded it to Iraq.) Iraq has demanded that Turkey withdraw the forces they deployed to the Bashiqa training camp near Mosul; the Turkish government has dismissed them outright, causing Iraq to request an emergency UN Security Council session.

The good news is that if Iraqi forces take Mosul, it will represent the most significant of a string of victories against ISIS, recently including the recapture of the Qayyara oil refinery and Iraq’s third-largest airbase. Mosul is the largest and most significant ISIS-held city. Once Mosul is retaken, ISIS’s days are numbered. Yesterday morning in Syria, too, the Free Syria Army (backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) advanced on Dabiq and reportedly took it over without encountering resistance. So ISIS has lost both the territory that allowed it to claim it was a state and the city that symbolized its apocalyptic vision.

The bad news is that as far as I can tell, no one has a plan for reintegrating Iraq’s Sunni Arabs — precisely the problem that gave rise to ISIS in the first place. What will fill the vacuum when ISIS is destroyed? 

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  1. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The bad news is that as far as I can tell, no one has a plan for reintegrating Iraq’s Sunni Arabs — precisely the problem that gave rise to ISIS in the first place.

    Without security, no “plan” for the fate of millions of others will work.  With it, it’s possible, yet hardly a sure thing.

    Obama took away a key prerequisite.  Precious plans do not matter in the absence of basic security.  THAT is what created ISIS.  We left — ISIS filled in.

    The whole reason for leaving US troops there was to bolster and stabilize the Iraqi security forces.  But as James of England reminds us, “nobody saw that coming.”

    Now Claire sees a similarity between the original effort and the current anemic political cowardice.  I do not.   Facts no longer matter.

    • #1
  2. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    According the NYT, this year alone the US has conducted airstrikes in seven countries and conducted Special Operations missions in many more. Any guesses?

    • #2
  3. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    And while I’m throwing out non-sequiturs, any insights on the (supposed) freezing of Russia Today’s bank accounts in the UK?

    • #3
  4. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Wait, wait, wait… I was assured if WWIII started, it would be President Trump’s provocation. The Democrats and their candidate have all this foreign policy expertise! Something’s not right here.

    Someone remind me, which battle for Mosul is this? I’ve lost count.

    • #4
  5. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Thus far, with no help in sight, anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 Islamic State fighters have dominated the city’s population. But there are probably well over 100,000 military-age males in Mosul with AK-47s in their closets who haven’t picked sides yet and are waiting to see what the government can offer them to fight the Islamic State.

    What the hell?  Those guys could sweep away ISIS in 30 minutes.

    • #5
  6. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    @Kozak – The short answer is they lack the culture for it. I wrote an essay about it a few years ago – let me see if I can find it.

    • #6
  7. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Thus far, with no help in sight, anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 Islamic State fighters have dominated the city’s population. But there are probably well over 100,000 military-age males in Mosul with AK-47s in their closets who haven’t picked sides yet and are waiting to see what the government can offer them to fight the Islamic State.

    Actually, I bet most of them would pick up their AK’s and shoot if we came to liberate them.

    At us.

    • #7
  8. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: What will fill the vacuum when ISIS is destroyed?

    Daesh remnants, just like al Qaeda remnants did when we burned that gang to the ground (almost) and then walked away before consolidating and finishing the job.

    It’s going to take a change in administration and a change in attitude for us to do anything  meaningful, and it’s going to take a change in Iraqi administration and attitude for anything to be at all doable.

    It’s entirely possible that Biden was on the right track earlier: separate Sunni, Kurdish, and Shiite regions.  They can coexist in a federation; I’m not convinced they can coexist politically more tightly integrated than that.

    I’m eliding Iranian influence; that can’t be meaningfully eliminated without the prior administration and attitude changes.

    Eric Hines

    • #8
  9. KC Mulville Inactive
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:What has observers most worried is the ostensible lack of planning for the aftermath.

    This reminds me of the phrase that they trot out every month: “Economists were surprised by the latest figures … ” In the beginning, you interpret the surprise as a sign that events are unpredictable, but after a few years of the repetition, you begin to suspect that the problem lies elsewhere.

    Let’s admit that we suck at predicting events. I’m half-tempted to tell the world, look, we’re good at militarily removing governments we can’t accept. But we stink at replacing them with a decent, non-corrupt alternative, and those failures always get us into trouble. So we’re going to change our policy to this – when we can’t abide by the existing government, expect us to take it out. But dont expect us to replace it. And if we have to keep coming back, so be it – that’s gotta be better than our method now.

    • #9
  10. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I don’t know why anyone is concerned about this. This will all turn out great because Joe Biden has assured us the Obama Iraq policy is a great success.  Of course, Joe Biden has changed his position on Iraq at least three times.  First, as explored by Tim Russert:

    Biden flip flops

    Then, a declaration that the outcome of the policy he opposed was not only a success but somehow an achievement of the Obama Administration (?!) while he was mindlessly undermining the political arrangements within Iraq that the surge had made possible:

    Biden takes credit for Iraq ‘achievement’

    It is possible that Biden was too stupid to know that giving Maliki a blank check was a betrayal of Sunni tribal leaders that would unravel the core diplomatic achievement of the surge strategy.  Or maybe he was knowingly carrying out the Obama plan to implement the Iraq Study Group idiocy of surrendering the region to Iran and to betray Israel as a sop to the Arabs we were also betraying.

    Maybe destroying Iraqi unity and hastening the breakup was a policy feature not a bug.  The destruction of Iraq as a functional democratic state in the flames of a regional war pitting Iran against Sunnis forced as a matter of survival to unite under Islamist radicals is very close to the foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration so the accelerated slaughter in Mosul and ensuing chaos has to be considered a policy success.

     

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Resistance is very difficult without leadership. Leadership is very difficult without organization. Organization is next to impossible when anyone you might invite into it could well be (or become) a turncoat. If it were not so, the Romanians would have stood Ceaușescu up against a wall decades before they did.

    • #11
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Percival:Resistance is very difficult without leadership. Leadership is very difficult without organization. Organization is next to impossible when anyone you might invite into it could well be (or become) a turncoat. If it were not so, the Romanians would have stood Ceaușescu up against a wall decades before they did.

    Romanians never stood the tyrants up against a wall–it was a coup–some of the oligarchs did it–it was all in secret, no one ever stepped up to be applauded as a liberator.

    & yes, organization is incredibly difficult. I don’t see any good solutions for Iraq, anything Americans might get excited about or feel responsible for–foreign affairs are not on Americans minds now.

    • #12
  13. Pseudodionysius Coolidge
    Pseudodionysius
    @Pseudodionysius

    anonymous:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: (Quoting Michael Knights and Michael Pregent in Foreign Policy):

    Thus far, with no help in sight, anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 Islamic State fighters have dominated the city’s population. But there are probably well over 100,000 military-age males in Mosul with AK-47s in their closets who haven’t picked sides yet and are waiting to see what the government can offer them to fight the Islamic State.

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    Let me get this right: the second-largest city in Iraq is occupied by something less than 6,000 medieval savages who are outnumbered anywhere from 17- to 50-to-one by armed military-age males who have done nothing whatsoever to defend their city and its people, and are waiting around to see what they’re offered to take up arms (or perhaps who can offer them the best deal). How are these the preconditions for a stable outcome if and when the dust settles and the external forces withdraw?

    Benghazi 24×7

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Titus Techera:

    Percival:Resistance is very difficult without leadership. Leadership is very difficult without organization. Organization is next to impossible when anyone you might invite into it could well be (or become) a turncoat. If it were not so, the Romanians would have stood Ceaușescu up against a wall decades before they did.

    Romanians never stood the tyrants up against a wall–it was a coup–some of the oligarchs did it–it was all in secret, no one ever stepped up to be applauded as a liberator.

    & yes, organization is incredibly difficult. I don’t see any good solutions for Iraq, anything Americans might get excited about or feel responsible for–foreign affairs are not on Americans minds now.

    You know more about it than I ever will.

    “Very difficult” doesn’t mean impossible. From the outside, it appeared that a tipping point had been reached, making leadership and organization moot.

    All because an assistant pastor was being punted from his digs …

    • #14
  15. Viator Inactive
    Viator
    @Viator

    The Iraqi government is faltering just as the battle for Mosul begins. Which force(s) will have the organization, military power, and political will to occupy post battle Mosul? Will they be Sunni, Shia, or Kurd?

    After Mosul is recaptured, Erdogan added, “only Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and Sunni Kurds should remain there”.

    Turkey’s parliament voted two weeks ago to extend the deployment of an estimated 2,000 troops across northern Iraq by a year to combat “terrorist organisations”. Around 500 of these troops are stationed in the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq, training local fighters who will join the battle to recapture Mosul.

    Iraq condemned what it called a “Turkish incursion”, and Abadi warned that Turkey risked “triggering a regional war”.

    “Baghdad knows that it cannot stand up to Iran or the US,” Metin Gurcan, a security analyst and former adviser to the Turkish military, told Al Jazeera. “But it feels that it can use Turkey as a new ‘other’, against which it can build a new, primarily Shia national identity and band at least 60 percent of the country’s population together.”

    Mosul is surrounded on three side by Kurdish forces. Kurds have been quick to occupy and control other major cities in northern Iraq.

    Might Mosul become a new Aleppo as urban warfare breaks out and state and sectarian actors vie for control?

    Image result for aleppo 2016

    • #15
  16. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    anonymous:What’s wrong with this picture?

    Let me get this right: the second-largest city in Iraq is occupied by something less than 6,000 medieval savages who are outnumbered anywhere from 17- to 50-to-one by armed military-age males who have done nothing whatsoever to defend their city and its people, and are waiting around to see what they’re offered to take up arms (or perhaps who can offer them the best deal). How are these the preconditions for a stable outcome if and when the dust settles and the external forces withdraw?

    Midway into Bush’s 2nd term, I recall seeing footage of a US Army Sgt addressing the local Iraqi police he was training during a morning muster. He all but called them worthless cowards, because they knew where the bad guys were, and refused to do anything about it. They were basically waiting to see who would win, and THAT’s who they’d throw in with.

    Buchanan was right. Break it up into three parts, tell them they have to rule themselves now, and get out. You’re GOING to get a warlord of some type running each of the three new kingdoms. Enough with trying to nation-build the place into Kansas or Utah.

    • #16
  17. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    I’m sure the woman described in this document will demonstrate similar gracefulness, attention to security and concern for the wellbeing of those that depend on her in her next role.

    • #17
  18. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: What will fill the vacuum when ISIS is destroyed?

    More of the same, just under a different banner.

     

    “Forget it, Jake. It’s the Middle East”.

    • #18
  19. Pseudodionysius Coolidge
    Pseudodionysius
    @Pseudodionysius

    Douglas:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: What will fill the vacuum when ISIS is destroyed?

    More of the same, just under a different banner.

    “Forget it, Jake. It’s the Middle East”.

    genferei:I’m sure the woman described in this document will demonstrate similar gracefulness, attention to security and concern for the wellbeing of those that depend on her in her next role.

    That’s ok. Clinton’s Hawk In Waiting will set her straight.

    • #19
  20. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    And here is your State Department at work.

    • #20
  21. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The bad news is that as far as I can tell, no one has a plan for reintegrating Iraq’s Sunni Arabs — precisely the problem that gave rise to ISIS in the first place. What will fill the vacuum when ISIS is destroyed?

    Once the common enemy has been pushed out of Mosul, if they are pushed out, the remaining sectarian forces will quickly all turn on each other. It is already occurring.

    In Tuz Khurmatu, the spotlight is on tensions between the Kurdish and Shiite communities. It is one of many areas that the Kurdish peshmerga stepped in to defend against the Islamic State after Iraqi security forces retreated. Now, Arbil and Baghdad each lay claim to the town. Unsurprisingly, after retaking the city from the Islamic State, the Kurds decided to stay and govern the territory, which Arbil considers its own. Meanwhile, Shiite militias are trying to push the Kurds out and return the contested territories to Baghdad’s rule.

    It will be the Lebanese Civil War writ large. The slaughter will continue.

    • #21
  22. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The bad news is that as far as I can tell, no one has a plan for reintegrating Iraq’s Sunni Arabs — precisely the problem that gave rise to ISIS in the first place.

    Without security, no “plan” for the fate of millions of others will work. With it, it’s possible, yet hardly a sure thing.

    Obama took away a key prerequisite. Precious plans do not matter in the absence of basic security. THAT is what created ISIS. We left — ISIS filled in.

    The whole reason for leaving US troops there was to bolster and stabilize the Iraqi security forces. But as James of England reminds us, “nobody saw that coming.”

    Now Claire sees a similarity between the original effort and the current anemic political cowardice. I do not. Facts no longer matter.

    We now have a tagging function; if you’re talking smack about someone, you can put an @ sign before their name and allow them to respond.

    I don’t think that US troops being stationed in Iraq was necessary or the most efficient way of preventing the invasion (more efficient ways would have included an earlier intervention in Syria, a reasonably swift response when ISIS did invade Iraq, and more State department involvement in Iraq). Given the failure to do any of those things, I would have preferred to have troops remaining in Iraq. American troops in Iraq had already provided basic security, though; terrorism was no longer at levels that dominated life. The oil price was a bigger problem, for instance. The invasion wasn’t the sort of thing that the US had been facing or was there to prevent, although it was something that US troops would have prevented if they’d been there (compare the various Turkish incursions while America was in Iraq, none of which saw particularly aggressive responses).

    • #22
  23. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Western Chauvinist:Someone remind me, which battle for Mosul is this? I’ve lost count.

    Do you mean that you lost count at two, or that you’re including medieval battles?

    Douglas:Midway into Bush’s 2nd term, I recall seeing footage of a US Army Sgt addressing the local Iraqi police he was training during a morning muster. He all but called them worthless cowards, because they knew where the bad guys were, and refused to do anything about it. They were basically waiting to see who would win, and THAT’s who they’d throw in with.

    There’s a lot of people who take that response. The guys who sacrificed their lives, running towards danger and dying in that danger, protecting my life (they successfully prevented a third suicide car bomber from detonating and thus probably saved my office from collapsing with massive death), and the many thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers who did the same thing do not appear to me to have been predominantly cowardly. @bossmongo trained Iraqis and did not find them to be consistently cowardly.

    Buchanan was right. Break it up into three parts, tell them they have to rule themselves now, and get out. You’re GOING to get a warlord of some type running each of the three new kingdoms. Enough with trying to nation-build the place into Kansas or Utah.

    Which of those three parts would have Baghdad? Why do you think that most Iraqi governorates have managed to have relatively successful elections, with peaceful changes of government in multiparty races, if they’re terribly strongly oriented to throwing that stuff off and getting warlords? Obviously, they won’t be Kansas; we can’t turn Baltimore into Kansas. There’s a lot of space on the spectrum between Saddam and Kansas, though. Giving up because perfect isn’t available is like deciding not to teach literacy to kids who appear not to be Einstein; even if you’re not going to get them into the top 0.1%, there’s a lot of value to providing Americans with the skills they need to work at Wal-Mart.

    • #23
  24. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Roberto:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    It will be the Lebanese Civil War writ large. The slaughter will continue.

    Viator:Might Mosul become a new Aleppo as urban warfare breaks out and state and sectarian actors vie for control?

    I mean, you know, maybe. So far as I know, though, there is no evidence for this. There are lots of places that suffer from violence and ethnic tension, but few that are as bad as Lebanon. To get as bad as Aleppo, you need leaders as evil as Assad. Outside North Korea, Sudan, and the DRC, I’m not sure that such leaders exist. I certainly can’t think of any in Iraq; the PUK and the KPD can be pretty corrupt and tacky, but a switch to genocide would be uncharacteristic, to say the least. Likewise, even if Malaki were to retake power in Baghdad, he’s more Sharpton than Hitler; he’ll exploit ethnic tensions, but he’s never attempted a final solution to them. Al Abadi generally tries to avoid even exploiting them. Most of Iraq is pretty peaceful and isn’t calling out for blood (it helps that most MPs represent districts that aren’t seeing violence).

    Most Iraqis want to have ISIS gone and to get back to fixing their economic and political problems. There isn’t the incentive structure toward horror in the way that there is in Syria.

    • #24
  25. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Douglas:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: What will fill the vacuum when ISIS is destroyed?

    More of the same, just under a different banner.

    “Forget it, Jake. It’s the Middle East”.

    You think there’ll be large government operated child slave brothels in Mosul next year? Executions for unislamic taste in music? Do you think that everywhere in the Middle East is the same with regard to this stuff?

    • #25
  26. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    James Of England:
    James Of England

    Roberto:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    It will be the Lebanese Civil War writ large. The slaughter will continue.

    Viator:Might Mosul become a new Aleppo as urban warfare breaks out and state and sectarian actors vie for control?

    I mean, you know, maybe. So far as I know, though, there is no evidence for this. There are lots of places that suffer from violence and ethnic tension, but few that are as bad as Lebanon.

    Currently they have a common enemy in the form of ISIS. Once that situation is resolved there seems more than sufficient evidence to conclude that sectarian violence will begin in earnest.

    However, the Peshmerga participating in anti-ISIS operations will likely exploit the opportunity to take control of areas by displacing Sunni Arabs from their homes, as they did following operations in Sinjar in November 2015.

    The shortage of manpower also leaves a gap for Iranian-backed Shi’a militias, which will likely follow the ISF as they clear the cities and remain as a part of the holding force, as they have already done in Shirqat. The Popular Mobilization reported on October 10 that militias are moving to the Ninewa provincial border to participate. Unnamed commanders from Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), two Iranian proxies with a record of sectarian violence, reported on October 13 that more than 2,000 of their fighters withdrew from Syria, mostly from Aleppo, to redeploy to Mosul…

    • #26
  27. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Western Chauvinist:Wait, wait, wait… I was assured if WWIII started, it would be President Trump’s provocation. The Democrats and their candidate have all this foreign policy expertise! Something’s not right here.

    Someone remind me, which battle for Mosul is this? I’ve lost count.

    Yup. The Democrats teeing up another problem war for Republicans.

    • #27
  28. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    JimGoneWild: Yup. The Democrats teeing up another problem war for Republicans.

    Well, no Republican President will have to worry about it until at least 2021.

    • #28
  29. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    James Of England: I don’t think that US troops being stationed in Iraq was necessary or the most efficient way of preventing the invasion

    US troops in Iraq would have prevented the behavior of Malaki towards the Sunni tribesmen, keeping them from feeling betrayed, and depriving ISIS the space and oxygen it needed to get going.  That precipitous withdrawal is the key event in what got us where we are now.

    • #29
  30. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Fred Cole:

    JimGoneWild: Yup. The Democrats teeing up another problem war for Republicans.

    Well, no Republican President will have to worry about it until at least 2021.

    And no Libertarian, ever.

    • #30

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