The Kurds Suddenly Opt out of Mosul Offensive
All of a sudden on Tuesday, Oct. 25, Kurdish Peshmerga chiefs announced they were pulling out of the offensive for the liberation of Mosul in which they were assigned a leading role.
They explained that with the capture of the villages of Tiz Kharabi Gawra and Tiz Kharabi Bchuk northeast of Mosul, on the ninth day of the Mosul operation, they had finished their assigned tasks and made good on their commitments to Washington and Baghdad. It was now up to the Iraqi army to take over and push on with the operation for retaking Mosul from the Islamic State.
To underscore their decision as final, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that Kurdish soldiers brought in heavy earthmoving equipment and began digging army positions and defense lines around the newly captured villages.
“These are the new borders of the KRG [autonomous Kurdish Republic of Iraq],” they said.
The Pehsmerga commanders dropped their surprise shortly after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had conferred with their leaders in Irbil.
Their refusal to go any further should not have caused too much surprise in the light of their combat performance from the start of the offensive.
Although widely hailed by world media as the sharp spearhead of the Mosul operation, their fighters depicted atop armored cars waving large flags, the Kurds themselves were not overenthusiastic about their role. While credited with clearing dozens of villages and towns on the way to the targeted city, those locations were found largely uninhabited with ISIS putting up minimal resistance.
Looking back on those first days, it transpires that the Peshmerga and ISIS never engaged in a single major frontal battle, just minor skirmishes for testing their opponent’s strength.
The Kurdish fighters held back from a fast-moving sweep because their government leaders in Irbil had implicitly advised them to focus on minimizing casualties, according to our sources. Irbil was clearly averse to sacrificing troops for a cause designed to serve US-Iraqi interests, which did not always dovetail with those of the KRG.
They were other considerations too:
1. The Obama administration had denied the Kurds permission to break through to the two Kurdish sections of Mosul. Their population of 75,000 is protected by a local Kurdish underground against ISIS hostage-taking and killing sprees.
Yet the Islamists turned out to be uncharacteristically chary about harming the Kurdish community of Mosul, Indeed, the jihadists kept to the Sunni neighborhoods in the western part of the city where they barricaded themselves against attack.
2. But Kurdish leaders’ concerns have increased since the ISIS assault on Kirkuk Saturday, Oct. 22, where fighting was still going on Thursday. They fear that hat the Islamists may decide to prioritize an assault on their cities and territory before the battle to save Mosul from the coalition.
Every last Peshmerga soldier has been deployed at strategic points in northern and eastern Iraq to anchor the territory claimed by the KRG.
3. The Kurds don’t trust the American pledge to keep pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias from gaining a foothold in liberated Mosul. According to their intelligence informants, the Shiites were preparing to violate their pact with Washington to stay out of the incursion into the city. This week, the Kurdish command posted troops in two sectors for barring those militias from entering Mosul. A realistic scenario raised its head of a clash between the Peshmerga and the Shiites.
4. Irbil is deeply apprehensive of Turkey’s intentions, in view of President Tayyip Erdogan’s constant harping on Ankara’s interests in Iraq. On Oct. 25, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared, “If there is a threat posed to Turkey, we are ready to use all our resources including a ground operation… to eliminate that threat.”
The KRG feels bound to keep all its manpower resources available and at the ready in case it becomes necessary to fight the Turkish army in Iraq.