Prospects of US-led Mosul Offensive Fade as Iraq Fragments
Even though US President Barack Obama and his top aides have reiterated over the past few days that an American attack on Mosul, the de facto ISIS capital in Iraq, will take place before the president leaves the White House next January, all signs show that the chances of such an attack are declining.
The main reason is the disintegration of the Iraqi state and the possibility that the Iraqi forces which the US is counting on – will not take action against ISIS, but rather against their political opponents and those within the Iraqi military.
Thus, there are five possible political developments in Baghdad:
1. The removal of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Masoum, and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Juburi by the Iraqi legislature. If the government is dissolved, Abadi is about remain in power as a lame duck for 30 days.
2. The downfall of Abadi could result in a reduction of the US forces assisting the Iraqi military and conducting operations against ISIS, making the capture of Mosul and the defeat of ISIS even less likely. The American troops might even be pulled out or expelled in the near future.
3. It can be assumed that Abadi’s successor will have a more pro-Iranian position, which could restrict US military operations and make the PM vulnerable to Iranian pressure for removing American troops from the country.
4. The new government in Baghdad would act quickly to create a balance of US and Russian military forces in Iraq, leading to the deployment of Russia’s air force and special forces troops at Iraqi bases. This would force Washington to reach understandings regarding an attack on Mosul and include pro-Iranian Shiite forces, which it has avoided until now.
5. The Iraqi military’s operations in the north are likely to be suspended if the current government falls. ISIS may then try to take advantage of the political chaos by launching a wave of attacks, including suicide bombings, to further destabilize the country.
On April 19th, after a week of intense conflict between legislators at the parliament, Speaker al-Juburi was suspended “until further notice.”
The previous day, the commander of US troops in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, gave his assessment of the American military’s current role in the country.
“So the advisers are going to be doing largely what we’ve been doing all along, which is providing the kind of military advice and access to enablers that help our partners on the ground against the enemy,” he said. Troops would be “closer to the (Iraqi) commanders who are making the critical decisions on the ground" but “not necessarily” closer to the front lines, according to MacFarland.
In light of the ongoing fragmentation of Iraq, his comments seem to be far removed from reality.