Obama: End terrorism like that in New York by Destroying ISIL in Mosul, Iraq

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama met yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and discussed the coming campaign to take the northern Iraqi city of Mosul away from Daesh, entirely destroying the terrorist organization’s territorial power in Iraq. Obama expects the campaign to be launched before the end of 2016, and said that the world would have to step up with contributions to rebuild Mosul in the aftermath (the only way to ensure that Sunni Arabs continue to reject radicalism and are reintegrated into Iraq is to ensure their economic prosperity and political dignity– something the government of Shiite hard liner Nouri al-Maliki [PM 2006-2014] never realized).

Obama’s vision for Mosul will face challenges. First, the city will be liberated in part by hard line pro-Iranian Shiite militias, whose presence is not welcomed by the Sunni Arab Mosulis, and who have sometimes committed reprisal attacks against Sunni families they see as collaborators. Likewise, Kurdish fighters of the Peshmerga will play a key role, which again may disturb a lot of Sunni Arabs. The Baghdad government of al-Abadi and its army still have to prove to the Sunni Arabs of the north that they are national and not sectarian. Finally, international calls for help face a lot of aid fatigue in the wake of the refugee crisis kicked off by the US invasion and destabilization of Iraq. Getting the G8 to pledge aid for Mosul and actually collecting the pledges are not the same thing.

Al-Bawaba reports that the arrival of hundreds of US troops at the Qayara base south of Mosul, and the focus of Iraqi military commanders on securing the city after the assault, show that the launching of campaign to take Mosul from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) is near.

Yesterday, Daesh attacked Kurdish Peshmerga checkpoints northeast of Mosul but was repelled.

Mosul is the third largest city in Iraq, after the capital of Baghdad and the southern port of Basra. Unlike the other two, it is largely Sunni Arab. It probably still has a million people, down from two million before its population brought Daesh in, in summer 2014, in hopes of escaping the rule of then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a hard line Shiite. The Mosul uprising against the Baghdad government was not itself fundamentalist in character, even if it allowed Daesh into the city. In a 2012 poll some 75% of Sunni Arab Iraqis said they wanted a separation of religion and state, and most had been shaped by the secularism of the left-leaning Baath Party 1968-2003. The Sunni Arabs of Mosul just had come to see al-Maliki’s rule as oppressive and sectarian, and wanted out from under it.

Some 500,000 Mosul residents immediately escaped once Daesh took over (the Mosul political elite thought they could handle the guerrillas but the latter took over and screwed them). In the past two years my educated guess is that another half million have gotten out (sometimes at the price of turning their property over to Daesh). From accounts of Iraqi journalists who have sneaked in and out, it appears that by now everyone in Mosul is miserable and would welcome the Iraqi army, even if it is being sent by a Shiite prime minister, Haydar al-Abadi.

The military campaign against Daesh, however, will not be prosecuted only by the Iraqi Army, which probably is still too weak to win it (the army collapsed in 2014 and only some units are back up to speed after US training and equipment, especially the special operations counter-terrorism regiment). Al-Abadi has pledged, over the objections of Sunni Arab notables from the north, that Shiite militias will play an significant role in the liberation of Mosul.

Hadi al-Amiri, head of one of the major militias, the Badr Corps, announced yesterday that no foreign land troops would be involved in the battle of Mosul. He admitted, however, that there would be foreign (i.e. mainly American) air support. In part, he was rejecting the idea that Turkish troops might play a role in the assault. The other issue is the Americans. The Badr Corps has a close relationship to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (indeed is its Iraqi offspring) and its members are sensitive to charges of abetting imperialism by fighting shoulder to shoulder alongside US troops.

The US special ops forces at Qayara, however, are not a war-fighting infantry but rather will advise the Iraqi army on tactics once the campaign begins. Al-Amiri may not be happy about this US support role, but he can honestly say that American infantry won’t be part of the assault. He underscored that the Shiite militias will definitely play a central role in the assault on Mosul, alongside the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga Kurdistan paramilitary. (The involvement of the Kurds in conquering a Sunni Arab city is also a touchy issue, especially since expansionist Kurdish nationalists have in the past vowed to incorporate Mosul into their Kurdistan superprovince of Iraq.)

Iraqi military intelligence has managed to get large numbers of free cell phones to Mosul residents. Its spokesman assured them that Daesh does not have the technical capability to tap these cell phones and cannot know what is said on them. The Baghdad government is urging Mosul residents to call its officials and to convey to the army the vulnerabilities of Daesh inside Mosul.


Related video:

The White House: “President Obama and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi”

18 Responses

  1. It doesn’t sound a coherent, carefully planned undertaking, more like a purpose promulgated for its effect on his immediate audience. Besides, even were it meticulously planned, what conceivable benefit could there be in informing Daesh so far in advance. What is particularly disturbing is this attack on the Red Crescent humanitarian convoy coming so swiftly after the coalition bombing of Syrian forces. Again, the US response is to express ‘outrage’, a knee-jerk emotional reaction, rather than any serious effort to determine who was responsible and why. It appears to some that the US has found itself insensibly coaxed into an agreement with Russia that it now regrets since if effective it would undermine their policy to remove of the Assad government, a policy which although it has sunk to the bottom of most nations’ priorities would be politically inconceivable for the US to swallow. Maybe that’s why Clinton’s expressed purpose is to bomb Assad infrastructure, perhaps she hopes she can kill him in the process and get off the hook that way.

    • From the US standpoint, this attack is largely political in that the Obama administration really wants Mosul retaken by November 8, in order to blunt Republican/Trump attacks that they aren’t doing enough to combat ISIS/ISIL. As for the hasty attack, giving ISIS notice, this is the last major area held by ISIS, they have know this was coming for a long time. The issue of alerting them is not relevant. As for the attack itself, the city is basically surrounded, so it’s not like a lot of tactical thought or innovation is required. The principles of siege warfare have been around for a couple of millennia.

      • ‌You cannot undertake a major offensive like that without a high degree of planning. My suggestion is this has not (yet) happened and it is as you say a mainly political announcement. When Russia entered the Syrian affray even the US was taken by surprise. Is there not something to be learned from that?

  2. Talking with American friends (uneducated in History) about the Middle East, all they see is a muddle; it’s all confused, all those people are so difficult to understand. To heck with ’em all.

    My analysis (also see my writings on other sites) would be that the political-military structures of these states and communities have been dominated by men — it’s always men — whose psychologies & philosophies have been twisted into a “leadership” that begins with dictatorial control over the political expressions of their community/state population group, in general we Americans should be sympathetic to the hopes and aspirations of the less-political majorities of these communities, while working against the tendencies towards authoritarianism that occur in both the Middle East and in America.

    Back in the day, there were suggestions (based in international state agreements) which considered an “international status” for Jerusalem (which was of course never implemented by powers on the ground).

    If I recall correctly, Mosul was also proposed for an “international status” at least once or twice by Historical actors. And if there was ever a city which would benefit from any sort of an “international agreement” over any sort of “international status” that could actually protect civil peace within the city limits, that city would be Mosul.

  3. It wold be interesting to hear what approach the man who knows more than generals, Mr. Trump, would take as president but at the moment our ratings obsessed news organizations seem to be fixated on the all important birther question.

  4. Juan, why did you choose such a provocative (and dubious) headline, if you then don’t develop its theme or comment on it in any way?

  5. “something the government of Shiite hard liner Nouri al-Maliki [PM 2006-2014] never realized).” and nobody noticed for eight years??????? and now they interfere?
    Every time they interfere, the americans make things worse.

  6. ISIL is as much an idea of justice for the Sunni as a nihilist ideology, so I doubt its ‘destruction’ in Mosul will have a big impact on terrorism over here. Justice and stability in the ME would prove much more helpful Since the US is a major purveyor of death and instability over there, I think the future over here is kind of bleak.

  7. International terrorism won’t get snuffed out even if ISIL falls in Iraq. Perhaps there might be a decrease in recruitment and coordinated attacks instructed from there and by them, but the ideology and new hardcore militants will be around to menace populations around the globe.

    The recent New York bomber had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan, not Iraq and Syria, and may have got instructions from different organizations such as the Pak/Afghan Taliban and/or Al Qaeda, though this is speculation, as he may have very well met a relatively newly formed ISIL group there instead, though I find it unlikely.

  8. What do you think of the Turkish presence in N. Iraq? I can’t imagine that it’s just about the PKK. I think the Turks and the Iraqi militias they’re training are there to take Mosul. They’re looking to right what they believe to be a historical wrong when the British incorporated Mosul province into Iraq. It’s possible that the Mosulis would prefer to be absorbed into Turkey than a Greater Kurdistan or a Shiite-dominated Iraq.

  9. ISIL have shown their barbarity by executing prisoners in cold blood. Hundreds of captured soldiers have been lined up, shot and tossed into mass graves. The world has stood revolted by this war crime.
    But if we are going to conquer Mosul, what are the plans for captured ISIL fighters? Not all will fight to the end, and some will attempt to merge back into civilians. If they are allowed to go undercover, they could plan and execute further attacks.
    Is a super Gauntanamo planned for possibly tens of thousands of prisoners for an indefinite period? Or will the West quietly hope for and accept an ISIL style massacre of captured fighters by the militias?

  10. PP. Mosul has long been Syrian. At the Paris Peace Conference after WW1 it was originally slated to be part of the French Area but the Brits insisted that it become a British Area because of the oil wells at Mosul. The haggling over oil almost triggered a French-British war.

  11. The notion that terrorist attacks will stop when Daesh is defeated at Mosul is a dangerous prediction. The Caliphate is more that one man and a territory. It is an ideology which will not die with the fall of Mosul.

  12. I am getting tired of so much concern about Sunni sensitivities. We treat them like children. Who have to be cuddled. Both Sadam and ISIL rank and file and various barbarian fundamentalists participating in ravaging of Syria are Sunnis. When are we going to hold them responsible for their nihilistic world view which has destroyed much of ME? It is easy to blame Maliki’s policies and others but do you really believe that is the reason for so much barbarism Sunnis have shown which would even put Genghis Khan to shame? Did Yazidi or Madaeni oppress Sunnis that deserve such punishment?

  13. ISIS Leadership and Command will withdraw before the battle, leaving small groups of fighters, who will put up stiff resistance, necessitating air strikes that they will avoid by falling back to secondary positions before the bombs fall, leaving the civilians and infrastructure to take the punishment.
    This will be repeated over and over again until many thousands of civilians are killed and the city is in ruin. Then the last of the fighters will slip out of town.
    Obama will declare a great Victory and Hillary will claim a vindication of the Obama/Clinton strategy in fighting ISIS and Terrorist everywhere.
    Throw in a few bombed Hospitals and some atrocities by Shite fighters and you have our upcoming battle.
    It’s all so sadly predictable.

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