Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003, Iraq has been unstable. It will remain that way for years to come irrespective of what happens in Mosul.
The main source of instability is the sectarian struggle inside the country.
The meddling of Iran has made a bad situation much worse. The regional rivalry between Shi’a Iran on one side and the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia and Turkey has contributed to the instability. Unless the three agree to work together to resolve differences, Iraq will continue to be a victim.
The military offensive against ISIS in Mosul is expected to last several weeks. The indications are that ISIS will eventually be driven out of Mosul and escape to Syria which is considered a safe haven given that neither the Assad regime nor the Russians are interested in fighting them.
The immediate consequences of the Mosul offensive are already making headlines: “Exodus of refugees of cataclysmic proportions”. The possibility of a desperate “ISIS using chemical weapons”. Also stories of WW3 appear in the press. The latter is unlikely for the simple reason that the security of USA and Russia is not threatened by what is happening in Mosul.
The Mosul issue is complicated. There are too many players involved with conflicting agendas. The latest participant to enter the fray is Turkey which has kept a tank battalion in Ba’ashiqa, a nearby town.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said that Turkish forces will participate in the “liberation” of Mosul. The various actors involved in the fight for Mosul (inc the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Sunni Hashd-al-Watani militia, the Turkish army, the Shia popular mobilization units, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the PKK) complicate the potential for coordination and subsequent co-operation. Inevitably a conflict of a different kind will follow between the disparate groups fighting ISIS.
Defeating ISIS in Mosul does not automatically mean an end to the violent islamist movements. They will continue to flourish as long as they are fed with hatred of Western civilization. We can defeat them militarily but seemingly cannot eliminate the extremist ideology from the minds of the gullible dupes who joined ISIS since the summer of 2013.
In the Middle East, the media is focusing on a wider anti- Saudi plot by Iran supported by the Obama administration’s decision to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran and lift sanctions. This emboldened Iran to impose its will on the region.
So the main winner will be Iran with hegemony over two of the most important Arab states – Syria and Iraq, while Saudi Arabia and Turkey lick their political wounds and concede political defeat. Iran has so far prevailed in its agenda to strengthen its grip over Iraq and Syria while keeping Turkey and Saudi Arabia out.
Questions remain; how to deal with the various militias loyal to Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan and so on? Can they be integrated into the political process? Is there a super plan of reconciliation and unification? Will Turkey and Iran play a constructive role in helping to rebuild Mosul and Iraq?
The loss of Mosul was a severe blow to Iraq. But why and how was Mosul occupied so swiftly by ISIS in June 2014? Why did the Iraqi army not fight? The answer can be found in an article I wrote in the Huffington Post in June 2014 :
In a nut-shell the collapse of the Iraqi army was swift and shocking. The fall of Mosul was catastrophic. No one expected that the army would disintegrate so quickly. Nouri al-Maliki the former Iraqi Prime Minister was blamed. He had purged commanders he suspected of disloyalty, replacing them with officers whose qualifications were not military experience but sectarian affiliations and personal loyalty. The alienation of the Sunni Arab element of Iraqi society, a third of the Iraqi population, has helped anti-government insurgents and made the collection of human intelligence in the Sunni areas extremely difficult.
For Iraq, the battle of Mosul is a testing ground. Reaching a power-sharing agreement between the different forces fighting for Mosul today, and protecting the local Sunni population will be critical for both the outcome of the battle and Iraq’s future.
The next battle for Mosul will be charting its political course after the military operation. If the various Iraqi players and the regional powers don’t agree, not only is Mosul doomed but so is Iraq itself. The country will be fragment into 3 states; Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurdish. Preventing that is the challenge once ISIS has been run out of town.
Nehad Ismail is Senior Analyst at Wikistrat