Mosul could be Trump’s first cri­sis

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - PA­TRICK COCK­BURN

MOSUL could be Trump’s first cri­sis. Iraqi troops are bogged down in the bat­tle for the city. Iraqi elite spe­cial forces and an ar­moured di­vi­sion are fight­ing to hold dis­tricts in the east­ern out­skirts of the city against IS fight­ers us­ing tun­nels to move about un­seen.

“In one day we lost 37 dead and 70 wounded,” said a for­mer se­nior Iraqi of­fi­cial, adding that the Iraqi forces had been caught by sur­prise by the 45-mile long tun­nel sys­tem.

The Iraqi Coun­terT­er­ror­ism Ser­vice (CTS) and the Ninth Ar­moured Di­vi­sion have been try­ing for two weeks to fight their way into that part of Mosul city.

IS is send­ing sui­cide bombers, snipers and mor­tar teams, to restart the fight­ing in a dozen dis­tricts that the Iraqi Army had said were cap­tured.

“At first I was op­ti­mistic that we might cap­ture Mosul in two or three weeks, but I now be­lieve it will take months,” said Khasro Go­ran, a se­nior Kur­dish leader fa­mil­iar with con­di­tions in Mosul.

He said that “if they (IS) con­tinue fight­ing like this then a lot of Mosul will be de­stroyed. I hope it will not be like Aleppo.”

A pro­longed siege with heavy civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and the pos­si­bil­ity of Turk­ish mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion is likely to be the first in­ter­na­tional cri­sis to be faced by pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump. The heav­ily-con­tested ad­vance of the Iraqi armed forces means that the at­tack will still be go­ing on when he is in­au­gu­rated on Jan 20.

Trump would have to de­cide if he is will­ing to sanc­tion an es­ca­la­tion in US-led airstrikes to de­stroy IS de­fences, though this would in­evitably lead to heavy loss of life among the 1.5 mil­lion civil­ians in Mosul.

A threat­ened mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion by Turkey will also be­come more likely if the best Iraqi com­bat units suf­fer heavy losses and look for re­in­force­ments from the Shia paramil­i­tary Hashd al-Shaabi (Pop­u­lar Mo­bil­i­sa­tion) forces and the Kur­dish Pesh­merga.

Un­der an Amer­i­can­bro­kered agree­ment, th­ese are be­ing kept out of Mosul to avoid sec­tar­ian and eth­nic ten­sions be­tween them and its Sunni Arab pop­u­la­tion.

Turkey has sent tanks to the Turk­ish-Iraqi bor­der and said it may in­vade if the Hashd or Pesh­merga fight in­side Mosul.

The prob­lem for the Iraqi armed forces is that they have pre­vi­ously re­lied heav­ily on US-led airstrikes to de­stroy IS po­si­tions. There have been 10,300 such strikes in Iraq since 2014.

In the bat­tle for Ra­madi in 2015 some 70% of the city was de­stroyed, but al­most all of the 350,000 pop­u­la­tion had fled and IS did not fight to the last man. The same was true of the outer ring of towns around Mosul like Bartella and Qaraqosh a dozen more miles from the city, which were empty of their in­hab­i­tants, mak­ing it eas­ier to de­stroy from the air build­ings held by IS.

Dur­ing the al­most two-anda-half years in which IS has ruled Mosul since it cap­tured it in June 2014 it has con­cen­trated on re­cruit­ing young ado­les­cents and teenagers. They are given ex­ten­sive ide­o­log­i­cal and tech­ni­cal train­ing.

IS is hold­ing out ef­fec­tively in east Mosul and may be able to with­stand a siege for many months, but it is likely to lose the bat­tle for the city. Iraqi army units are ap­proach­ing Mosul from the south and the Hashd are clos­ing off the west. A last stand by IS in the city, how­ever, could lead to its de­struc­tion.

The same tac­tics can­not be used in Mosul be­cause its peo­ple are still there and the city is very big. The gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive that be­gan on Oct 17 went well un­til it reached Mosul’s out­skirts two weeks ago.

Since then the fight­ing has swung back­wards and for­wards.

In al-Qa­disiyah al-Thaniya dis­trict, which the CTS had en­tered on Fri­day, the elite sol­diers later re­treated and IS fight­ers re­turned. A res­i­dent said that “they came back to us again, and this is what we feared. At night there were fierce clashes and we heard pow­er­ful ex­plo­sions.”

In In­ti­sar, an­other em­bat­tled east Mosul dis­trict, the Iraqi army’s Ninth Ar­moured Di­vi­sion has found that its tanks are vul­ner­a­ble in street fight­ing. It lost two T-72 tanks on Nov 8.

There were some signs of IS dis­ar­ray at the start of the siege. Hosh­yar Ze­bari, the for­mer Iraqi fi­nance and for­eign min­is­ter, says that by far “the big­gest sur­prise for IS was some months back when the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and the lead­ers of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG) agreed on a joint of­fen­sive.”

When Iraqi forces first at­tacked east Mosul, there were re­ports of wa­ver­ing morale among some IS fight­ers, but the IS lead­er­ship has mer­ci­lessly en­forced its con­trol.

The UN says that it has ex­e­cuted some 70 civil­ians in Mosul ac­cused of col­lab­o­ra­tion with Iraqi forces. On Nov 8, 40 peo­ple were dressed in or­ange jump­suits and shot for “trea­son and col­lab­o­ra­tion” be­fore be­ing hanged.

An­other 20 civil­ians have been shot for us­ing mo­bile phones to leak in­for­ma­tion to the Iraqi army.

The real level of sup­port for IS in Mosul is un­clear. The 54,000 peo­ple who have fled the city and sought refuge be­hind Pesh­merga or Iraqi army lands all ex­press their ha­tred of move­ment and de­plore its atroc­i­ties.

But lo­cals view the dis­placed civil­ians from IS with sus­pi­cion. “I see that IS are get­ting their fam­i­lies to safety,” said one res­i­dent driv­ing past a camp oc­cu­pied by In­ter­nally Dis­placed Peo­ple at Khazar.

Go­ran is an ex­pert on the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of Mosul where he was deputy gov­er­nor be­tween 2003 and 2009, and leader of the Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party in the city un­til 2011.

He be­lieves that re­ports of ex­ten­sive anti-IS armed re­sis­tance in­side the city was largely pro­pa­ganda de­signed for the me­dia. He pointed out that there might be a lot of for­eign fight­ers in Mosul, but “the ma­jor­ity of fight­ers are Iraqis”. – The In­de­pen­dent

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