Contrarian Shiites and Kurds Bedevil US Mosul Offensive Commanders
The US-Iraqi-Kurdish offensive for the liberation of Mosul was launched Monday, Oct. 17 with high hopes in Washington, Baghdad and Irbil of a rapid advance to quickly rid the second Iraqi city of ISIS – albeit amid qualified expectations for the town’s post-war future.
No sooner was the operation underway when the first snags cropped up for the operation’s top US strategists, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commander of the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.
They derived from a rash of unsolved issues, which the White House directed the officers on the ground to set aside for now and push ahead with the offensive.
These issues were rooted in the widely diverse agendas of the participants and indeed, in the case of Turkey, its participation in the first place (see a separate item). Furthermore, neither the Shiite militias nor the Kurdish Peshmerga (another separate article) stuck to prior understandings.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources warn that allowing the issues to linger any further is liable to prove a serious miscalculation and the cause of unforeseen backlashes, which could turn the coalition’s mixed bag of component forces against one another, instead of the Islamic State.
The pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Gen. Qassem Soleimani
Ahead of the Mosul offensive, the US commanders, the Iraqi government and the heads of the pro-Iranian Bader Brigades and Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) agreed on a quota of 8,000 troops to stay in the rear of the Iraqi government army force spearheading the drive into the city. They would serve in support functions for the government units and stay out of Mosul.
DEBKA Weekly reports that this agreement never held up for a moment.
When the offensive began, it was discovered that instead of 8,000 Shiite troops lining up outside the city at the disposal of Iraqi army commanders, the figure had doubled to 16,000 and, instead of waiting for orders – or even for the offensive to start – the Iranian commander in chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani had jumped the gun.
A few days before the assault force moved forward, he and his staff officers had established an Iranian war room for the PMU militia.
As a result, the Mosul operation set out under five separate commands – US-Iraqi, Iranian-Iraqi and US- Kurdish plus Turkey and Syrian Kurds (to be elaborated below).
Instead of focusing on running the war against the Islamist terrorists, the American commanders have their hands full with the almost impossible task of coordinating among those commands.
The main thorn in their sides is Gen. Soleimani. In every major battle in Syria or Iraq, when he was present, the Shiite fighters under his command shouldered aside all other coalition forces, jumping first into targeted territory and often inflicting extreme violence on the civilian population, especially when they were Sunni Muslims.
In the case of Mosul, the size of the Shiite force was deliberately doubled in breach of a prior agreement as muscle for entering Mosul as the vanguard, a development the Americans were anxious to prevent.
Like the pro-Iranian Shiites, the autonomous Kurdish Region of Iraq’s Peshmerga army saw no point in upholding the prior understandings reached between Irbil, the American commanders and Baghdad. Instead of the agreed 5,000 combatants allotted the Mosul offensive, more than 11,000 Kurdish troops were on the move Monday in the direction of the city
KRG President Masoud Barzani, who spoke from a forward position flanked by his generals, hours into the offensive, offered an assurance that all their roles were fully agreed among the military commanders.
This was wide of the truth. Notwithstanding US efforts, no advance consensus was reached with the Iraqi government and the KRG in Irbil on which combat zones to assign the Peshmerga and whether or not they would be permitted to enter the city.
Barzani also omitted to mention the Pershmerga’s real mission, which is to annex to the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq the territories across which their troops are advancing east of Mosul. They also plan to enter the two Kurdish districts of eastern Mosul and proclaim them a part of the autonomous region.
Still, the contrarian Iranian and Kurdish agendas are not the worst headache facing the Americans in Mosul. Turkey’s exploitation of Kurdish disputes threatens the entire offensive with meltdown as explained in a separate article.