By Parnaz Talebi

Zero hour starts for Mosul: ‘victory time’

October 18, 2016

TEHRAN - Mosul operation, launched on early hours of Monday October 17, would be a turning point in history of combat against ISIL.

Black flags of ISIL hoisted on government buildings in Mosul on 10 June 2014 and the city soon turned into the stronghold of the terrorist group in Iraq. Now, after about two years, Iraq is ready to liberate Mosul; a difficult task that would take months.

Needless to say, Iraqi government has been planning the retaking of Mosul, the second largest city of Iraq, since it fell to ISIL in 2014. An assault was called for on July-August 2015 and the first step was taken by Peshmerga forces in a short time span of late January to early February 2015, which cut the ISIL supply lines. However the whole plan was delayed due to fall of Ramadi on May 2015, which was liberated by Iraqi Army in February 2016. It was again in February 2016 that Iraqi forces were redeployed to Makhmour of Erbil to prepare for the Mosul operation. The offensive officially started on March 24, with Iraqi forces supported by Peshmerga and US-led coalition forces. The operation, so far, has proved successful as the Iraqi Army has won every battle against ISIL since then. ISIL terrorists have been pushed out from 17 cities including critical ones like Ramadi and Fallujah.

“It’s victory time… time to celebrate a clean Iraq without 'Daesh' or any dark belief… We are preparing to take action to free Mosul and regain security and stability in the region.”Preparations have long been underway to pave the way for the offensive to get launched. Iraqi government, with inclusive figure Heidar al-Abadi as Prime Minister since September 2014, is now reinforced and resolved to fight the battle as the key player and clean its soil of the terrorist group. Iraqi air forces dropped leaflets over Mosul to warn the residents of the approaching offensive on early hours of Sunday, October 16. The leaflets quoted al-Abadi as saying “it’s victory time…time to celebrate a clean Iraq without 'Daesh' or any dark belief… We are preparing to take action to free Mosul and regain security and stability in the region.” The leaflet also asked residents to stay away from ISIL positions and remain in their homes while informing them on recent developments and advances made by Iraqi and coalition forces as they have been under strict limitation of information and news access since the ISIL domination. Al-Abadi, additionally, has held several talks with a number of officials during recent weeks. He met with President of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani on September 29 in Baghdad to make sure of Kurds’ support during the operation. Following the meeting, al-Abadi announced that the time is ripe to liberate the Mosul and noted that the army forces, supported by the People’s Mobilization Units (aka Hash al-Shaabi) as well as tribal and Peshmerga forces, would score a victory in Mosul as other Iraqi cities and towns. Abadi also emphasized that no foreign troops would be present in the battle; “US-led coalition would only support the operation,” he underlined. Barzani, during the same presser, announced Erbil’s full support for the operation; “eradication of terrorism and purging Iraq of criminals is a common priority,” he said.

Liberation of Mosul, although very historic step in fight against terrorism and a very good news for Iraq, would automatically, or better said systematically, serve the plot US and its allies have been long pursuing in Syria.The support by Kurdish Peshmerga would be of great benefit for the Iraqi government as they have played a key role in fight against ISIL in Iraq since the rise of the terrorist group. Along with Peshmerga militants and Iraqi Army forces, Shia-led Hashd al Shabi, or People's Mobilization Units (PMUs, paramilitary forces including Sunnis, Christians and other ethnic and religious groups) are also participating in the battle whose members met with al-Abadi on Saturday to discuss the support for Iraqi forces in Mosul operations. Iraqi premier has repeatedly emphasized that no foreign boots would be on the ground insisting that US-led coalition troops are only to support the operation covering the fighting forces with airstrikes, artillery bombings and advisory services. Peshmerga, on the other hand, have agreed with Iraqi Army not to enter the city and would support the Army by fighting in Mosul outskirts as well as occupied villages surrounding Mosul with 4000 fighters.

Iraqi prime minister, further, made a visit to Kirkuk province on Friday and held meetings with leaders of the oil-rich region. Besides discussing the Mosul liberation, Abadi conferred with province’s security officials on retaking cities like Hawija located in south of Mosul. Gaining control over Hawija would be a heavy blow to terrorists and would help army and Peshmerga to have a supporting position near Mosul.

Mosul liberation, if accomplished, would be an entire drawback for ISIL. The nefarious terrorist group will then lose part of its self-claimed caliphate physically. ISIL already has been losing its fortresses and influence as well as its territory –Tikrit, Ramadi and Falluja- in Iraq and it is estimated that the terrorists, in search of refuge, flee to their strongholds in Syria during and after the liberation of Mosul; yet the situation in Syria have not been in their favor during recent months. Syrian Army, with support of its allies particularly Russia, has been fighting hard with ISIL and Nusra Front terrorists that was intensified after the ceasefire brokered between US and Russia shattered just after a week with US airstrikes against Syrian forces in Deir ez-Zor. However, it is too early to discuss the fate of ISIL who is strongly supported by a group of regional states and western governments to survive.

Clearing the last battalion of ISIL in Iraq, on the other hand, would bring about great sense of valor and power to Iraqi government and nation who have been in crisis since 2003 by invasion of US-led coalition under the pretext of ‘War on Terror’, which led to ousting of Saddam Hussein and left Iraq with a power vacuum and insecurity proper for giving rise to sectarian tensions and terrorist ideologies. Liberation of Mosul would also serve the security objectives along borders with Syria and Turkey and cut the flow of terrorists and weapons.

Concerns remain, however. One major issue would be the governance and control of the city after liberation. It would be really difficult to restore stability and then stabilize the situation in a city that has been ruled in isolation by ISIL terrorists for two years. For the same reason, about 15000 Sunni elements have been trained to handle the situation and control the city once it is liberated.

Mosul would be President Obama’s last card to play while in position to restore the reputation he has lost in his foreign policy in Middle East and further would revive Democrat’s campaign as a major victory.Humanitarian dimension of the operation would be great and of high concern as well. Fleeing the residents of the city while the operation is underway is expected largely and this would lead to a large displacement for which international humanitarian organizations are trying to get prepared by setting up refugee camps.

Yet, the most important concern would be the transition of Iraqi ISIL terrorists to Syria. Syria, rationally, would be the ultimate destination for many fleeing terrorists and would be forced to shoulder the burden. The terrorist flow would put in trouble the Syrian government and its allies, as it would not be easy to fight fresh-blood ISIL forces. And this is the point that really matters.

Liberation of Mosul, although very historic step in fight against terrorism and a very good news for Iraq, would automatically, or better said systematically, serve the plot US and its allies have been long pursuing in Syria. If accomplished, on one hand, the liberation would be President Obama’s last card to play while in position to restore the reputation he has lost in his foreign policy in the Middle East and further would revive Democrat’s campaign as a major victory. On the other hand, Syria would turn into a mess if Mosul-based terrorists try to reach its soil. The transition would extremely put pressure on the Syrian government and nation - mired in a devastating war since 2011- once again possibly setting the ground for main objective of US in Syria that is removing President Assad.

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