The high stakes of the Mosul battle
The expected battle to claim back the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) has taken on a military and geopolitical importance beyond Iraq to affect the entire region.
Mosul endured a historic siege by Nader Shah’s army during the Persian invasion in 1743. The British, when occupying Iraq in the early 20th century, appreciated the strategic location of the city. British prime minister Lloyd George was keen that Britain would be in control of Mosul’s oil.
Turkey, during the era of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, wanted in 1925 to grab Mosul but the League of Nations, the international body that preceded the United Nations, deemed it an Iraqi territory. Iraq gained formal independence in 1932.
In 2003, Mosul, along with the rest of Iraq, fell under US-led occupation until 2011 and, in June 2014, the city was captured by ISIS. Now there is an international coalition flying over and fighting ISIS in Iraq.
Despite its claims to be training anti-ISIS fighters, Turkey has no business being in Bashiqa, 20km inside Iraqi territory, but it is also hypocritical of the Iraqi government to single out the intervention of one country while allowing others.
The Iraqi government enjoys little trust among Mosul’s population, following what they saw as atrocities that took place in other areas liberated from ISIS.
However, remaining true to its history, Mosul will not break away from Iraq. It will remain despite the fact that politicians from all sides are planning to make personal gains and not working in the interests of the country.
Some Sunni Arab figures are bargaining to have a role in post- ISIS Mosul. Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani, by offering to help in Mosul, is seeking to consolidate his grip on disputed ground that the peshmerga captured from ISIS. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is weak in Baghdad, welcomes the Kurdish support.
Outside Iraq, both the United States and Iran are looking to use Mosul to strengthen their influence inside the country.
Internal and external powers do not care about the levels of death, destruction and displacement that will befall the people of Mosul. More than 1 million people are estimated to be in need of aid following the Mosul offensive, according to the United Nations.
Under other circumstances, only the Iraqi Army should be enough to defeat ISIS. Yet we have thousands of US and other foreign military advisers, tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and militiamen, the air power, intelligence and support of some 60 countries — all to fight an estimated 4,000 ISIS militants?
It is true that ISIS used shocking tactics and the Iraqi Army was demoralised to begin with. It is also true that the persecution that many Sunni Arabs suffered at the hands of the Shia-dominated government made them look towards any saviour.
But the brutality of ISIS towards all sides — Arab Sunni, Kurd, Yazidi, Christian or Shia — has united hearts against the terrorist group. The moral resolve now is much higher.
The problem, however, remains that there are political sides that want to divide Mosul and Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines. They aim to do so by displacing the people of Mosul, among other means.
The people of Mosul should have been armed long ago to defend themselves against ISIS, instead of being allowed to fall victim to the games of territorial and political ambitions at their expense and at the cost of Iraq’s unity.