Mosul post- DAESH will become the new vortex of instability in the Middle East with Iranian, U.S. and Kurdish forces vying for control. It will be interesting to see how Gen. Mattis’ visit to Iraq will shape a new strategy. Likely as not, the U.S. will seek to use the marginalisation of the Sunni sector to increase its profile.
So far the Iraqi government has deliberately avoided agreeing to a formula which will empower the Sunni Arabs in Mosul in the post-DAESH era and it intends to restore the regime which was in place before the DAESH takeover in 2014. Iran will use its influence with Iraqi groups, especially with the followers of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to restore Mosul’s pre-DAESH administrative regime. This will give Iran safe land access to Syria so as to complete its Shiite Crescent design for the Middle East. However, this plan will eventually clash with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) desire to maintain its control in the newly gained territories in Mosul’s predominantly Kurdish districts. This Iranian-inspired policy in Mosul is also contrary to the Sunni Arabs’ plan for self-rule in the province, especially with the plan of the Mutahidoun bloc of Osama al-Nujaifi.
The issue of the participation of the Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization Units or PMU) was a serious complicating factor in the preparations for the battle for Mosul. While the U.S. and non-Shiite groups wanted to exclude the PMU from the Mosul operation, Iran and Iraqi Shiite groups within the government insisted on their participation. The PMUs maintain between 60,000 and 90,000 men under arms on a rotating basis. Indeed, the concept of al-Hashd al-Shaabi was launched not by the state but by a so-called al-wajib al-kifai fatwa issued in June 2014 by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite leader. The Popular Mobilization Committee was headed by Jamal Jaafar Mohammad, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, a former Badr commander. Mohandis is the right-hand man of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, which is becoming increasingly influential in shaping Iraq’s future. Most of the groups followed the call to arms by Iraq’s leading Shiite sheikh Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The reaction to U.S. involvement in the Mosul operation has already made itself felt even under Obama. As soon as al-Abadi agreed its terms, al-Maliki formed the Islah (Reform) bloc to exert pressure on al-Abadi, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs. In addition, Iranian backed militias made numerous threats against the U.S.. Qais Khazali, the leader of Asaeb Ahlul Haq, and Muqtada Sadr, the head of Sarayah Selam militias, stated that U.S. troops in Iraq are their legitimate targets. Militia commanders, including Hadi al- Ameri, who is the leader of the powerful Badr group, issued many statements openly defying the views shared by al-Abadi and the U.S. on the anticipated participation of the Hashd al-Shaabi in the Mosul operation.
It is very likely that there will be a new confrontation between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the control of the disputed territories in the northern and eastern parts of the province. On July 30, 2016, Barzani had already staked his claim: “Liberating Mosul is impossible without the Peshmerga”. He added that Peshmerga will take part in the operation, but they will not enter the city of Mosul. At that point he agreed that 50,000 Peshmerga would participate in the battle, although only 10,000 Peshmerga were eventually committed. Almost immediately, by August 25, there were acrimonious exchanges between al-Abadi and Kurdish leaders.With Karim Nouri, a top commander of the Badr forces, demanding a total withdrawal of the Kurds after the battle, while Shaikh Jafar, a political bureau member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and top military commander categorically refusing to bow to this pressure.
It is expected that the Iraqi central government will emerge from the battle against DAESH victorious, gaining much military and political power on the ground in and around Mosul. If the past is any guide, the centralising character of this régime will prevail with all the negative consequences that can be expected from this. The only forces that could possibly bring stability to this situation relate to the multi-level Turkish-Iranian relationship, which could seek to bring a balance of interests between the Sunnis, Kurds and the Iraqi government. However, the way the cards will fall will depend on whether the US (Gen Mattis) will seek to implement a palliative (strictly anti-ISIS/DAESH) or disruptive (anti-Russian) strategy.