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Old 10-23-2016, 04:48 PM
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Exclamation Analysis: Which Iraq will triumph in Mosul?

Analysis: Which Iraq Will Triumph In Mosul?

As the Iraqi army and Kurds fight side-by-side against ISIS in Mosul, Kurds wonder whether their unique role in fighting extremism will be remembered when the war ends.

On October 20 the Kurdish peshmerga launched an operation to liberate the town of Bashiqa. They sought to flank the town and surround it and some villages nearby. But the offensive was slowed by tough ISIS resistance and what Kurds said was a lack of enough coordination and air support from the American-led coalition. By nightfall there had been casualties and the operation paused for a day. Bulldozers went to the front and carved out new frontline positions.

Farther southeast on October 21 the Iraqi army’s elite counter-terror Golden Division was hammering ISIS in Bakhdida and Bartella, two Christian towns ( that are 12 kilometers from Mosul. The Iraqi 9th armored division was also involved in trying to take Bakhdida, but the operation was moving slowly.

There is a momentary feeling of a unique alliance in Iraq as Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi, mostly Shia, Arabs from the regular army fight side by side against ISIS. But the alliance is complex. Kurds were surprised to see Iraqi flags fluttering from humvees and trucks moving to the front in early October after the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government allowed Iraqi army transit through the region to get to the front. People wondered why Kurds have fought and died for two years for these frontlines, while the Iraqis now are being transported to them with ease. They wonder whether the American-led coalition wants to use Kurds to fight ISIS but will not stand by Kurdistan when the war is over.

There is a belief among many in the Kurdish region that Iraq is like a shackle weighing down people’s hopes and dreams. One lawyer told me he has difficulty traveling abroad on an Iraqi passport. “It’s the worst passport except for the Somali one.” What benefits does the Kurdish region get from being part of a state that often feels like a failure. No one wants to come on tourism to “Iraq”, but they would come to “Kurdistan.” Oil revenues and state budget have been cut to the Kurdish region by the central government and the Kurd sought to export oil on their own. Trade comes from Turkey, not via Baghdad. New malls glisten in Kurdistan and there is an open, liberal atmosphere. But in Baghdad the parliament passed a ban alcohol sales and importation, reverting to conservative ways.

As the offensive to defeat ISIS creeps toward Mosul it appears essential that the cooperation taking place today between Sunni tribal leaders, Kurds and Shia can present an opportunity for a different Iraq to triumph in Mosul. A Sunni Arab sheikh,and Iraq parliament member who lives in Erbil named Ahmed al-Jarba visited the frontline on October 22 was upbeat that this united Iraq might triumph. “There is good cooperation between Peshmerga and the Iraqi army, including the Sunni tribes that we could not predict before. I want to assure people of Mosul that they will be liberated.” He said that unlike in Ramadi or Fallujah where Sunni civilians suffered, the residents of Mosul will not be harmed by the offensive. Kurdish fighters on the ground said they were also hopeful. “We have good relations with the Iraqis stationed here,” a local officer said as dust from an Iraqi tank driving toward the front from Gwer blanketed them.

There are many signs of cooperation. Christian militias are fighting side by side with the Iraqi army to liberate Christian towns in Nineveh which border Mosul. Even the Shia militia Hashd al-Sha’abi has put out a video showing Christian churches reoccupied with their parishoners. Kurds have worked hard to rescue members of the Shabak minority whose inhabit more than 50 villages that are being liberated from ISIS. Yazidis have gained refuge in the Kurdish region. For a moment it seems like this grand alliance is something unique and special. But none of these forces are united. Christians have three different militias, one close to the Kurdish government and one closer to Baghdad, Iraqi tanks fly Shia flags, Kurds have Kurdish fags. Some Shia Shabak minorities support Baghdad, whereas Sunnis prefer Kurdish rule. Many groups want their own autonomous areas, with Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, and Sunni Arabs all talking about more rights after the threat ISIS posed. And don’t forget the Turks whose have revived old Ottoman-era connections to Mosul and want a role protecting the Turkmen minority. Unity in separateness might be a good term for what has happened in Iraq. Unity against a common enemy.

The question many are asking is whether this can be maintained after the conflict with ISIS ends. The Kurdish economy was badly affects by the war. Tourism and development projects were put on hold. Men postponed studies to defend their land. Security has been upped throughout the country with checkpoints on the roads and constant need to track down potential threats.

The international community has been supportive of the Kurds, with the US funding the Peshmerga directly and training and working closely with Kurdish units alongside other coalition countries. When the war is over will that aid and support dry up. The US administration of Barack Obama has been pressing for the Mosul offensive to be finished by the time his term ends. That leaves a new US administration without the “problem” of fighting ISIS in Iraq, but if that administration is not committed to its Kurdish allies and prefers to revert to old form of only dealing with Baghdad, it will find that the same problems that existed before 2014 will return.

Last edited by Paparock; 10-23-2016 at 04:50 PM..
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Old 10-23-2016, 05:00 PM
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Exclamation JPost on the frontline: Iraqi army retakes Christian towns as Mosul battle rages

JPost on the frontline:
Iraqi army retakes Christian towns as Mosul battle rages

Kurdish Peshmerga forces. . (photo credit:SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

Elite counter-terrorism units advance to liberate Christian towns on Nineveh plain as ISIS suicide bombers try to slow the attack on their regional capital in Iraq.

Gwer, Iraq - As Kurdish forces moved to push Islamic State from the town of Bashiqa to the northeast, the Iraqi army is slowly tightening its grip on Mosul’s southern and eastern flank. Clearing the village of Bartella and securing the large, formerly Christian, town of Bakhdida will set the stage for the final assault on the center of Islamic State in Iraq. Local soldiers describe a tough battle ahead.

In July of 2014 the last remaining Christians in Bakhdida, a town that once housed 50,000, fled the advance of ISIS. They abandoned an ancient town that is also known as Hamdaniyeh and Qaraqosh here. The three names are evidence of its long history. Assyrian Christians call it Bakhdida, but the Turks, who occupied this area of northern Iraq for hundreds of years under the Ottoman empire, called it Qaraqosh. Many local Kurds and Muslims call it Hamdaniyeh. This is the diverse fabric of Nineveh plains, that is also a center of competition for the future control of Iraq. Whoever wins in Mosul and how they win will determine if the Kurdish region, the Sunnis of Mosul and the Shia-led government in Baghdad will coexist or have another round of conflict.

In early October the Iraqi army was still struggling 40 kilometers south of Mosul, making slow progress from the city of Qayarrah on the Tigris river. However an agreement with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has allowed Iraqi forces to deploy alongside the Peshmerga in two sectors on Nineveh plains, which brings them within 15 kilometers of Mosul. The plan was for Kurdish and Iraqi forces to work in concert to clear the approaches to Mosul which the Iraqi army would then assault. These are sensitive issues because Nineveh plains around Mosul is a diverse area with Kurdish, Assyrian and other groups that lived here before ISIS arrived. The KRG wants to liberate and protect areas that are Kurdish, while the Iraqi government wants to re-take Mosul on its own without Kurdish involvement. Sunni Arabs, who are the majority in Mosul and the surrounding area are often suspicious of the Iraqi central government and the Shia militias who have worked alongside it in the war on ISIS.

On the frontline at Bartella the division of forces was clear. Bartlella is a Christian town that lies along a road running from Erbil to Mosul. North of the road the Peshmerga have advanced and liberated two villages that lie below Mount Zartik. They are building a new frontline with bulldozers pushing up mounds of dirt and men in camouflage constructing small make-shift bunkers. ISIS is still a threat and the bulldozer driver Salem says they were attacked several nights ago.

South of the road the Iraqi army is pushing forward through Bartella and also through the large Christian town of Bakhdida. On Saturday the town was on fire, with four huge plumes of black smoke rising skyward. Even if it is liberated it may be badly destroyed and take years to rebuild. It’s been a tough battle say members of the elite Iraqi Counter-Terror Forces (ICTF). One soldier named Ahmed al-Buhari, who has been fighting in Bakhdida says that they are facing stiff division. The ICTF, often known as the “Golden Division,” are considered the best forces in Iraq’s new army that was rebuilt after being shattered by ISIS in 2014. It has new American equipment, jet-black painted humvees, and men in black uniforms. “There are still snipers in Bartella and Hamdaniyeh, many suicide attacks. If they stop advancing ISIS will come back. We had 80 ISIS killed on this front yesterday.” As we speak an explosion in the distance is so loud it feels like it cracks the air around us. “Suicide bomber,” says one of the soldiers. These ICTF soldiers are mostly young men who left cities like Basra in Iraq to help re-conquer their country from the scourge of ISIS. One man named Suleiman left school to go to war. He’s fought in Hit, Fallujah and Ramadi, the toughest battles. The cheer is gone from the faces of these young hardened soldiers. Their humvee shows the signs of battle. A bulletproof window whose glass seems two inches thick, is partly shattered and a large shell is wedged into it. There is a kind of cult of wearing images of skulls among the Iraqi units. Some have images from the comic-book hero “Punisher” etched on ammo pouches. Others wear T-shirts with a skull or balaclavas with them. ISIS brought death and destruction, so these men want to show ISIS that they can be just as serious in sending the extremists to their graves.

The Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga have a proper relationship, dividing their duties on both sides of the line. We sat with Kurds who had taken over a house as a forward observation post. Graffiti on a neighboring building says in Kurdish “so long as I live I will never abandon my position against ISIS.” As Iraqi units advance, the Kurds hold their sector. These are allies in the war, but not allies deep underneath. Their flags fly side by side on the road, briefly here, but no where else. In Kurdish camps there are no Iraqi flags and in the Iraqi units there are no Kurdish flags.

ISIS resistance has stiffened in the last days. When the Mosul offensive was launched on October 17 it initially went quickly. Villages were taken all long the frontline. ISIS melted away. There was even talk of ISIS surrendering the city, or of an uprising among its 1.4 million inhabitants, to throw off the shackles of extremism. Reports claimed there were only 5,000 ISIS facing 50,000 Iraqi army and Kurdish forces. And the ISIS fighters seemed weak and pathetic when killed and captured, emaciated, their signature long hair and beard, and black uniforms, caked with dirt. The once-vaunted ISIS, was broken, people said. Arrayed against ISIS the Iraqi army is stocked with American equipment, including modern tanks, legions of humvees, and other ordinance. One Iraqi unit had a massive TOS-1 multiple rocket launcher, it’s 30 barrel launcher with 200mm rockets, ready to hit positions in Bakhdida if called upon. The men are happy and enthusiastic, they’ve been fighting for two years and feel victory is in their grasp.

ISIS has rallied to right against the Peshmerga and Iraqi units. It has sent numerous suicide bombers and dug itself in with snipers and mortar positions. It has laced the villages with improvised explosive devices. On Friday it launched an attack on Kirkuk, well behind the frontlines, occupying buildings and showing that it is still a formidable, dangerous foe. The US is concerned about the pace of the offensive and does not want it to lose momentum. Defense Secretary Ash Carter flew to Baghdad on Saturday and special Presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS was in Erbil on Friday to show American support for the operation, give assurances that close air support would be effective and prod the Iraqis and Kurds to keep the pressure on the terrorists.

The bells of a church in Bartella were rung for the first time in two years as the ICTF secured the town. This is an important symbolic victory. Christian fighters from a group called the Nineveh Plains Forces came to Bartella to see their town and participate. It took them time to negotiate an entrance through the ICTF lines, arguing and gesticulating to get in. Once Bakhdida and Bartella are fully secure the Iraqi army will keep pushing into the eastern and southern suburbs of Mosul.
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