Skepticism lingers over the long term success of retaking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from ISIS. The announcement of the offensive has been met with elicited controversy.
According to The Atlantic, eight months after Islamic State fighters captured Mosul, an Iraqi force and its American allies are planning to attempt to take it back. On Thursday, an official from U.S. Central Command announced that a combined Iraqi and Kurdish army of around 25,000 soldiers will launch an offensive in the city this spring, timed to occur before the arrival of Ramadan and blistering summer weather.
On Capitol Hill, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham sent President Obama a letter accusing the announcement of “risking the success of our mission.” These type of disclosures are common, but that did not seem to make a difference. The news wasn’t met with enthusiasm either in Iraq. Sunday Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi angrily exclaimed that any assault on Mosul was for Baghdad to decide, not Washington.
Lingering questions regarding the proposed attack includes: “How do you get control when the actual population doesn’t like you very much?” and “Is the operation going to work?”
The odds are in favor that Iraqi forces should triumph. Only 2,000 ISIS fighters currently reign over the 1 million people populating Mosul. Besides outnumbering the militant group’s forces, the Iraqi-Kurdish military will have the support of U.S. airstrikes.
However, The Atlantic reported, conventional advantages only go so far. Last year, ISIS fighters had few problems overcoming the much larger, well-trained, and better-equipped Iraqi forces. The issue seems to stem from the country’s sectarian divisions. The Iraqi military draws heavily from the Shia majority likely to struggle to control Mosul’s now entirely Sunni population.
“It’s all about the composition of this force. 25,000 Iraqi soldiers, where are they going to come from? Are any Shiite militiamen going to be involved?” said Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a researcher at the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.
For the United States, recapturing Mosul is just one part of the country’s broader campaign against the Islamic State. Contrary to perceptions that the group is growing more powerful, American officials have argued that ISIS is now stretched thin. One such official said, “Militarily, ISIS is in decline.”
But even if victorious when the fight to retake Mosul is over, Iraqi forces must still overcome the sectarian divisions that have plagued the country.
“How do you get control when the actual population doesn’t like you very much?” said Sajad Jiyad, an analyst with the Baghdad-based Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform.