A "day after" strategy is vitalby Renad Mansour, Saad Aldouri / October 20, 2016 / Leave a comment
With the Mosul offensive underway, discussion has largely focused on the eventual fate of Islamic State, once it is ousted from the city. Yet the most significant barometer of this offensive remains unanswered: what happens if a military victory is not followed by a political accord among Iraq’s competing players? The signs are not encouraging.
The realities of victory differ when viewed from military and political perspectives. In the build up to the offensive, most of the focus has been on how to achieve a military victory. Here, much debate has centred on the makeup of the force. It is clear that the Iraqi army, under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s command, will lead the liberation and the operations inside the city. Yet the supporting cast remains a shaky coalition of Shia paramilitaries under the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga forces, and Sunni tribal units from the area. Iranian, American, and Turkish troops will also provide support from the air and the ground. The division of labour among the coalition remains somewhat unclear.
Although the liberation for Mosul represents the biggest deployment of Iraqi forces since 2003, it appears set to be a gruelling and protracted fight. The campaign remains in its infancy with troops clearing uninhabited villages on the outskirts. Moving into the city represents a greater challenge. IS militants, who have been preparing for the battle for over two years, will want to exploit the complexities of urban warfare amongst civilian populations because they know that the Iraqi army and police are seeking to avoid civilian casualties that can be (mis)interpreted as sectarian killing, as what are perceived to be Shia-led forces enter Sunni-majority lands.
Such considerations present a major challenge to the state-led forces, and have complicated the planning process. Nonetheless, the urban warfare that is set to ensue is likely to bring extensive damage to the city, beyond even the levels of destruction wrought in the battles for Fallujah and Ramadi.
While command and control of the city is likely to be achieved following the battle, it is unlikely that IS supporters will be totally removed from the city. Their operations will go underground and transform into more of an insurgency movement—just as al-Qaeda in Iraq did when it was defeated by Iraqi and American forces in 2008. A military victory, then, will uproot the IS leadership from the city and revive state services. It will also ensure a return to civilian Moslawi rule of the governorate and municipalities, but the violence may not come to an immediate end.