Current Situation in the Fight against ISIS in Iraq and Potential Mosul Operation
ISIS established a significant control in Iraq since June 2014 and the fight against the organization continues without losing any acceleration. News claiming that Iraqi Air Forces’ planes dropped leaflets over Mosul stating ‘an operation will be conducted and people should get make preparations’ put Mosul operation, which was said to take place after Ramadan, on the agenda back again. However, current situation should be delicately evaluated before an operation against ISIS in Mosul considering the positions of ISIS and elements fighting against ISIS, namely Iraqi Army, Hashd al Shabi, Shia militias, and peshmerga.
To begin with, the fight against ISIS continues as direct confrontations in three regions, namely Fallujah (Tikrit), Beyji (Tikrit), and Ramadi (Anbar). So, it is a three-front war against ISIS. Furthermore, ISIS also conducts terrorist attacks and hits security forces in Sinjar, Kirkuk, Diyala, and Baghdad. Considering the front wars and Mosul operation, it is hard to say that a significant progress has been made against ISIS. Especially Anbar province, which is under complete control of ISIS, has become a blind spot for Iraqi Armed Forces and Hasd al Shabi militias. In the current situation of the operation that was launched on May 26 in Anbar province by Iraqi Army and Shia militia, a significant progress has not been witnessed so far. In addition, Although Tikrit was taken from ISIS after an offensive that lasted for a month in March; Fallujah still remains under ISIS control. This situation makes the ongoing Anbar operation and potential Mosul operation even harder, because the link between Fallujah -which was the stronghold of Sunni resistance and Al-Qaeda in post2003 era-, Hit, and Ramadi remains uncut. Existence of the link between these three locations, which serves as logistical support and resistance line for ISIS, makes the fight against ISIS harder and prevents Iraqi security forces and Hasd al Shabi from gaining ground.
In the north of Fallujah-Hit-Ramadi line, ISIS is also present in Tikrit’s Shirgat town, which is located on the road to Mosul. So far there have not been any major offensives against Shirgat. This road also connects Kirkuk’s Hawija town, which is under ISIS control, located on Kirkuk-Tikrit road. Furthermore, ISIS holds the control of villages in south of Kirkuk around Dakuk, such as Taze Khurmatu’s Beshir village. Currently, ISIS is effective on Tikrit road as close as 12 km to Kirkuk.
It is possible to say that ISIS fully controls Iraqi-Syrian border. With the exception of Fishabur in northern Iraq, ISIS has control over all border gates between Iraq and Syria. Syria’s Raqqa and Iraq’s Anbar provinces, which make the longest border line between two countries, have become ISIS’s strongholds and the border has been eliminated. Both provinces are in the borders of the “Islamic State” declared by the organization. This makes it hard for both Syria and Iraq to fight against the group and makes it possible for the group to move in a better mobilized way. Despite the aerial attacks by US led-coalition powers and Iraqi Air Forces, it is not quite possible to say that the needed operational support has been achieved.
Furthermore, as Iraqi officials stated, it is observed that the Iraqi Army is still in need of logistical, training, and human resources supports. Indeed for this reason, the highest Shia authority in Iraq Ayatollah Ali Sistani gave a recent fatwa calling all university graduates take up arms and fight against ISIS.
On the other side of the issue, the lack of coordination between forces fighting against ISIS makes another crucial obstacle to gain ground against the organization. Regarding an operation for Mosul, it seems obvious that there is a competition between the elements that would take place in an operation for Mosul, namely Sunnis groups, Iraqi government, and Kurds. While Sunnis oppose Hasd al Shabi’s entrance to Mosul, they lack the strength to take it back from ISIS on their own. In addition, even though Kurds want a share from Mosul, ongoing fights in Sinjar, rural Kirkuk, and Hanekin split Kurds’ man power. Kurds’ internal strife deepens the split in their power as well. As the effective Kurdish group around Mosul, KDP opposes PUK’s peshmergas’ inclusion for Mosul. Along with this strife, disputes within Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) internal politics reveal questions whether Kurdish support for Mosul operation will be available or not. While Kurds are trying to hold their positions against ISIS, they are also locked to the issue of KRG presidency. Although incumbent President Massoud Barzani, whose term was prolonged two years ago, wants to stay in power, all other groups oppose this and the crisis keeps deepening. Announcement of August 20th as the election day has made Kurds focus on internal politics. For this reason, an operation for Mosul after Ramadan would have limited support from Kurds.
Considering all these factors, it is possible to say that circumstances are not ripe to conduct an operation for Mosul. Moreover, the fights against ISIS in other regions of the country have not come to an end and there is possibility to open new fronts in this fight. Iraqi security forces’ being unready for such an operation in terms of organizational, logistical, and supportive skills makes the likelihood of operation quite low. In addition to these factors, Mosul’s current estimated population is around a million, thus an operation will cause a severe humanitarian crisis for inhabitants of the city. In this context, even though there are statements claiming that an operation for Mosul will be conducted by Iraqi security forces, it can be stated that operation’s likelihood of success is quite low considering the circumstances.