Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Iraq Situation Report: July 26-August 2, 2016

By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford arrived in Iraq on July 30 to discuss upcoming operations in Mosul with Coalition, Iraqi, and Kurdish officials. Dunford met with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi on July 31 and Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani on August 1. The visit comes as the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue to make headway around Shirqat and Qayyarah as part of condition setting for Mosul. The question of force composition for the Mosul operation continues to arise as the ISF makes progress towards Mosul. The Coalition can currently enforce which forces participate in operations in northern Iraq by leveraging Coalition airstrikes, as they did in Ramadi to ensure that Popular Mobilization did not participate. Both Barzani and Gen Dunford stressed that the Peshmerga participation was necessary for a successful operation in Mosul, however it is still unclear if the Peshmerga will operate within the city of Mosul itself, rather than its environs. If the Peshmerga fights in the city and remains there after the end of the operation, they may be unwilling to withdraw in an effort to claim Mosul as a Kurdish city rather than cede it back to the Iraqi Government. The Popular Mobilization are also angling for the right to participate in Mosul. They tried to justify this right by surfacing a four-month old decree from PM Abadi which calls for the restructuring of the Popular Mobilization under the ISF. The decree was signed on February 22 in the midst of PM Abadi’s attempts to reshuffle the Cabinet, but remained undisclosed until July 26 when several Popular Mobilization units circulated the document. The decree, however, would not alter the way the Popular Mobilization is organized or operates. It calls for the organization of the Popular Mobilization under the command of PM Abadi and in a brigade-centric structure similar to the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS). Both of these structures already exist, however PM Abadi lacks leverage over the Iranian-backed proxy militias in the Popular Mobilization. The Popular Mobilization likely surfaced the decree now to legitimize their presence in northern Iraq as part of the ISF. However, Coalition, Kurdish, and Ninewa officials will continue to reject militia participation in northern operations.