liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS marks a crucial stage in the fight against the terrorist group in the Iraqi territories. Once Iraqi armed forces totally cleanse the whole Nineveh province, the capital of which is Mosul, of the terrorists ISIS will sustain a working blow to its organizational structure.
But end of ISIS in Nineveh does not appear to be signaling arrival of calm to the province. A range of other challenges are expected to ensue, making the Iraqi government in need to take preventive measures to steer clear of other problems in post-ISIS period
A picture of Mosul by figures
Located in the northwestern Iraq and fitting in an area of 37,000 square kilometers and accommodating a population of about 2.5 million, the Nineveh province is the second-largest Iraqi province. Nineveh also has a special place among other Iraqi provinces for its economic and political significance. Mosul has the same status economically and politically, and is the second city with the largest population after the capital Baghdad. The city is home to many oilfields and a major pipeline exporting the country’s oil to the neighboring Turkey passes near the city.
The population of the city is a showcase of ethnic and religious diversity, with the Sunni Arabs accounting for a major part of the population in the central parts of the city. The southern parts of Mosul host an array of Christian sects, and the east is home to the Kurds. Turkmen, Yazidi, and Shabak minorities are the dominant ethnic groups in Mosul’s north. According to statistics, the minorities account for only 20 percent of the Nineveh population.
Mosul liberation process
The operation to retake Mosul was launched nearly a year ago. Tigris River passes through the center of the city, breaking it into two eastern and western parts. The first stage of the offensive against ISIS fighters was started from the eastern part. The mission to liberate this part of Mosul was concluded within 100 days on the strength of low population density, paving the way for beginning of the push to reclaim the western part. The offensive in west has been going on at a slow pace because of dense population and narrow and winding streets. It took the coalition of the Iraqi forces nearly 9 months to cleanse western half of the city of terrorists, and the operation is still underway for full recapture.
The Old City district in western part set up the biggest roadblocks ahead of the advancing forces, making them quite slow in progress. The human factor has been the key consideration behind the slow push in the Old City which is reportedly home to about 10,000 civilians. Density of the housing along with winding and narrow streets has practically kept the army from using its armored vehicles. Instead, the reliance has been on infantry, which means the offensive went on at a slow pace.
The Old City district has been crucial for both the advancing Iraqi forces and the ISIS militants for its hosting the landmark Great Mosque of al-Nuri and Al-Hadba Minaret. They played as symbol of ISIS power gain during control of the city for over two years, as the ringleader of the terrorist group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced establishment of the caliphate from the same mosque. Keeping the district was vital to the ISIS, but now its reclaiming by the Iraqi forces even facilitated the final liberation and of course negatively influenced morale of the terrorist fighters.
According to Abu Ala al-Wilaee, the commander of the Kata’b Sayyid al-Shuhada, an Iraqi popular force operating under Public Mobilization Forces which was formed in opposition to ISIS, during the liberation some 5,000 ISIS fighter were killed by Iraqi forces.
“We have information that about 15,000 Daesh (Arabic acronym for ISIS) fighters are alive but about 10,000 of them fled the city. So 5,000 others are among the civilians and restructuring for counterattacks against Iraqi forces there”, al-Wilaee was earlier quoted as saying.
With full liberation of Mosul in center of Nineveh from ISIS grasp only some other areas of the province remain under the terrorist group’s control, including Tal Afar and some 20 small regions mainly located in the northern and eastern outskirts of the province. Upon Mosul recapture, the subsequent plan will be Tal Afar offensive, according to Iraq’s military sources.
Tal Afar is predominantly inhabited by the Turkmens, both Sunnis and Shiites. The city is currently encircled by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) which have not yet been allowed to enter the city because of opposition from local, regional, and even international parties.
Challenges after ISIS
1. Security administration of Nineveh
One of the enormous challenges Nineveh has to deal with in post-ISIS time is the argument over the politico-security governing. The struggle actually will be on what forces with what composition will undertake security there. The problem looks more complicated if we know that at the time being a wide range of parties including the Iraqi army, Iraqi Counterterrorism Service, federal police, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and the PMF that is comprised of Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Turkmen, and Yazidi fighters have played a role in Mosul triumph.
A set of proposals have so far been made about the administration after recapture. Still the preferable solution lies in forming a council with representation from all parties involved in liberation as well as provincial officials including the governor, the province representatives in the parliament, and the provincial council’s members.
2. Reconstruction and refugees challenges
The Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri has talked about plans for holding a Sunni conference in mid-July to which about 74 Sunni figures will be invited. The meeting, sources familiar with the case suggest, gets behind-the-scenes- sponsoring from a series of regional countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan. The July conference will, reportedly, precede a “Sunni” donor conference in Kuwait that will feature 20 countries to raise “tens of billions of dollars” for Sunni cities reconstruction, particularly Mosul and Al Anbar province. Such sectarian-oriented meetings can provoke objections by other parties and thus subsequent challenges among the country’s political factions.
3. Areas seized by Kurdistan regional government
Another serious challenge after ISIS obliteration in Iraq could be the discord between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish region’s government over what the constitution labels “disputed regions.” Currently, some disputed regions in Al Anbar are under control of the Peshmerga fighters, and the Kurdish leaders assert that their forces have no plans for retreating. These regions’ governing issue is expected to continue to be a dispute as it has been since fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
4. Turkish forces presence in north
Since 2007, Turkey has deployed forces to northern Iraq to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), its archenemy. When in 2014 Mosul fell to ISIS, the Turkish forces were dispatched to Bashiqa town as close as 20 kilometers to Mosul, responding to calls for help of President Masoud Barzani of Kurdistan.
As time went by, Turkey sent further armored vehicles and personnel to Bashiqa Camp, a military site where Turks claim they train the Kurdish fights, stirring an ongoing row with Baghdad. In October last year, the Iraqi government warned that it will deal with Turkish troops in north as “occupying forces” if they fail to withdraw. Accusing Ankara of violating sovereignty, Baghdad officials threatened that they will file a complaint to the UN over Turkish “incursion.”
The illegal Turkish presence in Iraq’s north is linked to the centrifugal moves of the former parliament speaker Osama al-Nujeifi, and the Kurdish region. Ankara holds close ties with Kurdistan government and al-Nujeifi, and argues that its military personnel in Syria serve a plan to train Peshmerga forces and militants loyal to Atheel al-Nujeifi, brother of Osama al-Nujeifi and governor of Mosul when the city fell to ISIS. The Turkish leaders say troops will remain in Iraq until conclusion of battle for Mosul. But experts warn that even after the war Turkey will not pull out forces, rather it will intensify efforts to deepen influence in northern areas through al-Nujeifis channel.
Turkey also grows concerns over activism of Sinjar Resistance Units (SRU) a Yazidi militia formed in 2007 to protect Yazidi minority. The group has close links to the PKK, a connection provided Turkey with justification to launch airstrikes against its positions. Odds are that Turkey will seek instigating pro-Ankara Kurds’ hostility against the SRU.
5. Cultural and radicalism status of the once ISIS-held areas
ISIS defeat in Mosul might symbolize a turning point in anti-ISIS operations across Iraq, and will definitely dismantle the group structurally, but it cannot fast eliminate the ideology of the terrorist group in Iraq. ISIS ideology will have years-long consequences on various Iraqi classes of people, something urging cultural and social work to remove the stubborn ideology’s effects.