All the news about Mosul, at least in the US and UK seems to be on the positive side. The offensive spokesmen keeps repeating it is “on schedule” what ever that means since no one has ever stated exactly what the schedule is.
To be sure everyday there are reports of fleeing civilians expressing their joy at escaping the Islamist version of heaven on earth. There can be no doubt that there is little happiness for the downtrodden citizens of Mosul, having existed through two years of the Islamist version of shagri -la, and now facing being caught in street battles between Iraqi and ISIS combatants. They face the virtual destruction of one of the most historic and formerly beautiful cities of the Middle East. For sure ,by all accounts ,the most fierce battles are yet to come. The ISIS fighters within the city have orders from their reclusive leader, al Baghdadi, to fight to the last man, reminding me of Hitler, safe in his bunker, ordering the 6th Army in Stalingrad,to fight to the last man. Moreover escape routes out of the city may be tenuous at best. Like trapped rats they have no alternative but to die fighting.
As a blogger on this subject I cannot claim to have any inside official or intelligence knowledge from any government functionaries, nor do I enjoy close links with any think tank or well-known academic experts. I haven’t just returned from the front lines either armed with fresh quotes from an Iraqi “Colonel Ahmad” or some Islamist leader.
But in a way that is a strength because I notice that the big Middle East bloggers write with an eye on a Washington Post, NYT or Foreign Policy article, or interview. In other words the political climate is always in their minds. They always have to get a well turned phrase or comment from some leading academic or policy wonk.
So I have to admit that my expertise rests soley on my long experience and historical knowledge of the area, and a regionally acquired intuition in detecting journalistic, governmental, or academic Bullshit. There is much of that flowing these days. Iraqis call it Khara. no translation needed
As a born skeptic when it comes to trends in the Middle East, I continue to question the optimism on the offensive against the ISIS. Iraqi leaders keep reporting they are in possession of 30%, 60% etc. of Mosul. Some times the same districts are reported captured several times. There are many pictures of newly freed districts of Mosul. All seems well. I have no reason to question except intuition is getting in the way.
I try to follow every possible open press source on the war in Iraq and to a lesser extent, Syria as well. I also have Iraqi friends who keep me updated on Arabic social media. The one source I find most helpful is the Institute for the Study of War. They are more reserved and cautious in their assessments. The senior British general in Iraq just opined that Iraq would not be cleared of the ISIS until the last half of 2017. That sounds about right to me.
He did not mean just Mosul but also the vast Anbar province in the remote Syrian desert. Right now most of it is still owned by the ISIS, with Iraqi government control limited to the outskirts of the major Anbar cities. The general encouraged patience and understanding of the Iraqi strategy and tactics, which he said are founded on a genuine desire to avoid horrendous civilian casualties. I don’t doubt that.
But here is the real question. Will the shaky international and factional coalition hold together long enough to get the job done? And can the war in Syria continue to be seen as a separate part of the overall war against ISIS? How will the war in Syria impact on the Iraqi war? Will all the vastly different international and sectarian interests remain united in the fight against the ISIS?
The Iraqi parliament just voted to recognize the PMU (An umbrella Shi’a militia organization) as an official arm of the government under the direct control of the Iraqi Prime Minister,. So in effect, Iraq now has the Iranian defense model. The Iranians have the regular army and the Pasdaran, the revolutionary Guard, who are the real power in Iran. They have separate command channels..This is all part of the Iranian design to control Iraq in the future, after the ISIS is vanquished. Many Iraqis believe that the PMU is stronger than the Iraqi army. They have a plentiful supply of heavy equipment gathered from Iran, the old South Lebanese Army destroyed by Hezbollah in 190o, and arms dealers.
So why does this matter?
Is brings into sharper focus the Shi’a -Sunni ongoing war by proxy. Inducing greater fear among the Gulf Arabs and other Sunnis in the Arab world of Iranian imperialistic ambitions. The Gulfies will feed the sectarian wars with lots of cash and soldiers of fortune. Mosul, as the assault drags on, will become the Sunni Alamo, with accolades beginning to be bestowed on the gallant Mosul defenders, 6000 against 100,000 enemies, withstanding not only the Majus (derogatory Sunni term for Shi’a) but the U.S. and Iran, and Russia.
Meanwhile as the PMU ambles along doing very little fighting in their slow movement toward Mosul, the Iraqi army’s best units are being chewed up and exhausted in the urban warfare in Mosul. Should there be a show down between the Iraqi army , marginally supported by the United States, and the PMU, supported by Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, and probably Russia, there is little doubt as to the likely winner.
Despite their huge numbers, there are only a few well-trained units in the Iraqi army. In fact it seems it was more a political decision benefiting both the US administration and Iranian regime to launch the offensive before more units were ready.
Some years ago King Abdullah of Jordan spoke of the “Shi’a arc” and most saw it as scare mongering but today there seems to be coming to reality, Iran will establish a land bridge across Syria to Lebanon, and in a sense the Persian empire under Xerxes will be reformed….from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.
Iraqi soldiers. Not a particularly effective way to lay down covering fire and conserve ammunition
Maybe none of this matters as the United States has largely retreated from a leading place in the Middle East, and with the American public in no mood to become more deeply engaged in a dysfunctional Islamic, Middle East world, maybe we will be content to let Putin take over the burden. But somehow the wars will always come to us as it did in Dec 1941 and 9/11.