The offensive to take the Iraqi city of Mosul is proceeding slowly as the terrorists adopt scorched-earth tactics against Iraqi forces.
The terror group used hundreds of human shields as the Iraqis advanced, then massacred them when they withdrew. Up to 284 men and boys were shot to death according to one source.
Islamic State fighters set fire to a sulfur plant which then spewed out toxic gasses, sickening hundreds.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made an unannounced visit to Iraq looking to get the Iraqi government to accept Turkish assistance in retaking Mosul.
The idea went over like a lead balloon.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said through a translator that Iraqi, Kurdish and other local forces can handle the battle for the country’s second-largest city themselves.
“I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul and the rest of the territories,” al-Abadi said.
Iraqi forces in coalition with Kurdish peshmerga soldiers, American advisers and various ethnic minority paramilitary units began a large-scale offensive Monday to recapture Mosul, which was overrun by Islamic State militants in 2014.
While recognizing Iraq’s sovereignty is key, the U.S. goal is to resolve disputes between partners in the coalition in order to fight the common enemy, Carter said, according to the Associated Press.
“I am confident that we can plan a constructive role there,” he told reporters.
Carter’s visit comes two days after a U.S. service member, who worked with Iraqi special forces as an explosives-disposal specialist, was killed outside Mosul, the fourth death since the U.S. began military operations in the region in August 2014, AP reported.
Perhaps it’s for the best that Turkey won’t be participating in the attack. The complex array of forces assembled by the Iraqi government have not gotten along very well as it is.
The operation is being waged by a disparate collection of fighting forces, each with its own, often-conflicting objectives. If and when ISIS is pushed out of the city, it’s not clear how these differences will be reconciled.
“It’s a very, very dangerous cocktail,” said Marina Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “This is a group with completely different end-goals. There is a real fear that when they get rid of ISIS from Mosul then things are really going to blow up.”
Here’s a rundown of who’s involved in the offensive — and what they want.
Leading the charge to recapture Mosul are Iraq’s security forces.
They have a point to prove; this week’s offensive comes more than two years after they were widely criticized for relinquishing control of the city in the face of a far smaller group of ISIS fighters.
The capitulation was so humiliating that the then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fired four of his top security officers for abandoning their “professional and military duty.”
This is the first time in five rotations here in Iraq that I’ve seen the Kurds and the Iraqis cooperate,” Gen. Gary J. Volesky told a Pentagon briefing Wednesday.
This pact was forged by pragmatism — the immediate needed to defeat ISIS — as well as a U.S.-brokered oil deal signed in August.
But it is a potentially uneasy alliance. While the Iraqi government aims to drive ISIS out of its divided country, the Kurds have additional motive, namely their long-held ambition to become an independent, internationally recognized state, separate from the central government in Baghdad.
“The Kurds have one objective: for the Americans and the international community to support their independence,” according to Knights. “To do that they have got to be very, very cooperative in this battle.”
Fighting alongside the Iraqi forces is an umbrella group of militias, most of whom are Shiite Muslims backed by neighboring Iran.
While not officially part of the Iraqi security forces, the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU, was formally recognized by the Baghdad government earlier this year as an “independent military formation.”
The PMU’s involvement in the ISIS fight has drawn significant criticism. An Amnesty International report this week accused the militias of “war crimes” and “gross human rights violations,” alleging its fighters were guilty of torturing, forcibly disappearing and executing Sunni Muslims they suspected of being ISIS sympathizers.
Turkey wants into the Mosul fight badly — so badly that they set up a military base inside Iraq without the Iraqi government’s permission. Turkey wants a seat at the table after the battle is over to advance a variety of issues dear to them, most importantly, to prevent a unification of Kurdish areas and stop Kurdish terrorists from attacking Turkey from Iraq.
No one knows what’s going to happen when the inevitable victory is achieved. (There are nearly 60,000 Iraqis going against less than 5,000 ISIS fighters.) Mosul civilians are fleeing in terror as the prospect of Shia militias rampaging through the town carrying out sectarian cleansing becomes a possibility. Iran wants a corridor to Syria, the Sunnis want a larger say in the affairs of state, and minorities like Christians and Yazdis want protection.
With all these competing agendas, it’s possible this fragile coalition will fall apart before the victory is in hand and the factions will fight each other. This would be an exclamation point on the failed and futile policies of the Obama administration.