For top Iraqi com­man­der, Mo­sul of­fen­sive is per­sonal bat­tle

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ma­jor Gen­eral Najm al-Jub­bouri, a top com­man­der in the of­fen­sive against Is­lamic State in the Iraqi city of Mo­sul, peered through binoc­u­lars at flames af­ter his men shot dead an Is­lamic State sui­cide bomber.

It was a small vic­tory for a man whose war against ji­hadists is deeply per­sonal. “You are he­roes,” he said through a walkie talkie as Iraqi forces cleared an­other vil­lage, hop­ing to open a new route to the mil­i­tants’ strong­hold of Mo­sul. “You are he­roes”.

Last year, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi asked Jub­bouri to re­turn home from the United States to help lead the fight against Is­lamic State, which swept through Mo­sul and other parts of north­ern Iraq in 2014 and im­posed a reign of ter­ror.

Up­beat

Jub­bouri is up­beat as he paces on the rooftop of a house that serves as a makeshift com­mand cen­tre, sur­vey­ing the bat­tle­field and tightly man­ag­ing ad­vances. But he is acutely aware of what Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS, is ca­pa­ble of. Last year, he watched an Is­lamic State video broad­cast on so­cial me­dia which showed the drown­ing of pris­on­ers who are locked in­side a steel cage and slowly low­ered to their deaths in a pool.

Some of the victims were Jub­bouri’s cousins, he said. “My rel­a­tives and cit­i­zens suf­fered a lot from al Qaeda and ISIS. I de­cided to re­turn back here. In Mo­sul, ISIS killed a lot from my tribe and from my friends,” he told Reuters in an in­ter­view.

Jub­bouri left his fam­ily be­hind and his job at the Na­tional De­fence Univer­sity in the United States and put on his mil­i­tary fa­tigues again at home. Ea­ger to avenge the deaths of his rel­a­tives and help sta­bi­lize Iraq, Jub­bouri is try­ing to fig­ure out ways to over­come the com­plex chal­lenges of fight­ing Is­lamic State in Mo­sul, home to about one mil­lion peo­ple.

Iraqi forces can’t move heavy weapons and tanks through Mo­sul’s nar­row streets, and Is­lamic State is us­ing civil­ians as hu­man shields to slow govern­ment ad­vances, said Jub­bouri, who served in Sad­dam Hus­sein’s army for decades.

In the desert just be­yond Jub­bouri are two army trucks mounted with ma­chine­guns, primed to at­tack any sui­cide bombers in ve­hi­cles who try to ap­proach the makeshift com­mand cen­tre, which is sur­rounded by body­guards. “We want to re­move the can­cer (of Is­lamic State) from the body and this is a very dif­fi­cult mis­sion in­side Mo­sul,” said Jub­bouri.

Jub­bouri, who moved to the United States in 2008, is acutely aware of the dan­gers posed by Is­lamic mil­i­tants, and the sec­tar­ian an­i­mosi­ties which have desta­bi­lized Iraq. As mayor of Tel Afar from 2005-2008, he cleared out al-Qaeda fight­ers from the town and pro­moted rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween Sun­nis and Shi’ites.

Iraq has been strug­gling to find a for­mula for sta­bil­ity since a US-led in­va­sion top­pled Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003.

Is­lamic state de­feat

Even if Is­lamic State is de­feated in Mo­sul, Iraqi lead­ers must en­sure that the same eth­nic and sec­tar­ian hos­til­i­ties which helped Is­lamic State es­tab­lish a wide­spread pres­ence in the coun­try do not creep up again. The group ini­tially won over Sunni sup­port­ers be­cause that sect felt marginal­ized by the Shi’ite-led govern­ment in Bagh­dad. Jub­bouri called for an end to a gov­ern­ing sys­tem which al­lo­cates top posts based on sects. “It won’t be rosy. Many dif­fi­cul­ties,” he said. “Some politi­cians will not like to change be­cause many of them would lose their po­si­tions.”

For now, he is fo­cused on the fight against Is­lamic State. Jub­bouri said Iraqi forces had set a six-month timetable for the Mo­sul cam­paign. But he is con­fi­dent of vic­tory by the end of this year, pre­dict­ing the group will col­lapse.

So far, Iraqi forces have cap­tured about 60 per­cent of east­ern Mo­sul, and the western part of Iraq’s sec­ond big­gest city could prove far more dan­ger­ous. “In be­gin­ning, ev­ery­day we faced be­tween 60 and 70 car bombs. Now we are fac­ing about two or three,” said Jub­bouri, as his forces fired mor­tar bombs and rock­ets at an as­phalt fac­tory where mil­i­tants strapped with ex­plo­sives were po­si­tioned. — Reuters

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