iraq, isis
Iraq Middle East

The Significance of the Mosul Offensive

(GPA) Mosul, Iraq  The current offensive to liberate Mosul is somewhat of a climax for Iraq– it’s the last IS stronghold in the country and lots of different forces are involved with very different intentions. Here’s why the Mosul offensive is so significant for the future of Iraq and the region.

Mosul is exactly how IS ended up with about 2,300 armored US Humvees and US-supplied equipment intended for the Iraqi military. IS acquired the abandoned equipment after securing control of Mosul in 2014– a significant upgrade for the aspiring caliphate. IS has since been using the vehicles and weaponry throughout not only Iraq but also Syria. So we’ve been seeing the result of this play out in attacks over the past two years– such as the 2015 battle of Ramadi when IS conducted over 30 suicide bombings using mostly US-supplied Humvees.

IS has held control of Mosul ever since. More than 3.3 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2014– thousands from Mosul. Back in 2014, IS even took control of the Mosul airport, TV stations, government buildings, and prison. Another pressing issue includes the deteriorating Mosul damn– which requires daily maintenance. If it collapses, an estimated 1.5 million people would be at risk.  The other man-made disaster– IS– publicly burned 19 caged Kurdish women alive for refusing a life of sex slavery. During the current offensive, IS has reportedly been using human shields– a clear indicator of their desperation.

Indeed, the stakes are beyond high in Mosul, and the current offensive to liberate the city from IS control as soon as possible is crucial. But if you look beyond humanitarian concern you’ll find Washington’s desire to save-face, correct past mistakes, and manipulate. The United States spent billions training and arming the Iraqi military. Only to have Iraqi security forces flee Mosul in 2014 when confronted by IS– despite out-numbering the insurgents.

Capturing Mosul– Iraq’s second largest city– was obviously a huge victory for IS. The insurgent group has seen success in Iraq not only in the form of territory but weapons and supplies abandoned by Iraqi security forces– which as a result has added to IS’s strength throughout Syria. Mosul is a perfect opportunity for the US to not only rectify past mistakes, but also manufacture much needed support for the Iraqi security forces and government. Which is crucial since defense experts claimed the Iraqi military was “ill-equipped” to conquer Mosul over the Summer.

But the US isn’t putting all of their eggs into one basket. A “US-coalition” along with Kurish Peshmerga forces launched a minor Mosul offensive in June. Reuters has reported that members of the US-coalition spoke English but authorities refused to confirm which countries the fighters had come from. “They may be Americans, they may be Canadians or from other nationalities,” U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren said when the news outlet asked about the Maple-leaf emblems on the fighters’ uniforms.

Related: DESPITE IRAQI VICTORIES NEAR FALLUJAH, A POTENTIAL MOSUL OFFENSIVE SUFFERS MAJOR DELAYS.

Indeed, the anti-ISIS coalition itself adds another awkward element to the Mosul offensive that the US won’t be able to ignore after the city is liberated. The Kurds are hopeful that a victory in Mosul will put them one step closer to an independent Kurdish state– which would optimistically extend to the Turkish border. Despite objections from Baghdad, Turkish forces are also involved in the Mosul offensive. Ankara claims Turkey has a “historic responsibility” to participate in the Mosul offensive. Which of course is a perfect counter-weight to any potential Kurdish progress in the region. Then there’s the Iraqi security forces, which were unprepared to combat IS back in June and resulted in a delaying the offensive until October. If the Iraqi government lost control of Mosul to IS two years ago, would we see a replay if the city is again placed in Iraqi-control after its liberation?

Washington might also be using Mosul to not only manipulate control over Iraq but control over IS as well. IS fighters are reportedly fleeing back towards Syria. A surge of IS fighters in Syria would definitely work to Washington’s and Turkey’s advantage by putting pressure on pro-Assad forces.

Regardless of what happens during this offensive, it is already clear that the United States has a heavy financial and emotional investment in Iraq. What’s completely unclear is what will happen afterwards. Since IS has already resorted to using human shields and other barbaric methods, civilian casualties are expected to be high. Experts are worried the heavily-populated city will be the catalyst for another refugee and humanitarian crisis.

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Also published on Medium.