Monday, October 3, 2016

Iraq Situation Report: September 20 - October 3, 2016

By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have finalized conditions to begin the push north towards Mosul and its environs. The ISF recaptured Shirqat on September 22, the last ISIS-held city in Salah al-Din Province. Shirqat’s recapture extends the ISF’s control up the Tigris River from Baghdad to Qayyarah, placing the ISF on the doorstep of Mosul’s environs. The U.S. announced on September 28 that it would deploy an additional 615 advisors to several bases, including Qayyarah, to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces in preparation for the Mosul operation. The deployment represents the third “boost” to U.S. forces in Iraq since April. The deployment could help generate additional ISF forces, which are still needed to retake and hold Mosul. Meanwhile, Arbil and Baghdad announced the formation of a joint military committee on September 29 to coordinate in Mosul while the Ministry of Peshmerga announced Popular Mobilization, tribal fighters, and National Mobilization, a Turkish-backed Sunni militia, will participate in the operation. The statements gives a possible distinction between Sunni tribal fighters under the Popular Mobilization umbrella, which are acceptable to the Coalition, and Iranian-backed Shi’a militias in the Popular Mobilization, which are unacceptable. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi warned the Peshmerga, however, that they should not exploit the operation to expand the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Iraqi officials have rejected Turkish presence in the operation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs renewed calls for Turkey to leave its base near Mosul after the Turkish parliament voted to extend the mandate for Turkish troops in Syria and Iraq on October 1. Turkish President Recep Erdogan stated on October 1 that Turkey will have a role in Mosul operations, likely in order to ensure the post-ISIS administration of Mosul is receptive to Turkish interests and to retain oversight of Kurdish ambitions in the region. Turkish presence could complicate the Iraqi Government’s ability to resolve Mosul’s post-ISIS governance if Turkey tries to influence the outcome in its favor. 

ISIS has increased its attacks in Baghdad and renewed attacks around Tikrit likely in order detract from the ISF’s ability to deploy north to Mosul. The Coalition assessed on September 29 that eight to twelve Iraq Army brigades would be needed to retake the city, however an estimated half of the ISF remain in and around Baghdad in order to secure the capital. ISIS will play on the ISF’s manpower shortage in order to delay or weaken the ISF’s operation into Mosul. The Coalition can reduce this vulnerability by generating and training additional security forces.

Former PM Nouri al-Maliki continues to unravel PM Abadi’s support base. The Council of Representatives (CoR) voted to dismissal Kurdish Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari on September 21 in the same method in which it dismissed Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi on August 25. The Reform Front, Maliki’s shadow party, spearheaded the effort, which succeeded largely due to a fallout between the Kurdish parties over Zebari’s survival. The Reform Front is now pushing for the dismissal of Minister of Foreign Affairs and former National Alliance chairman Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Sunni Minister of Electricity, Qassim al-Fahdawi. Maliki will continue his efforts to unseat PM Abadi’s administration in order to set conditions for the ultimate dismissal of PM Abadi himself. PM Abadi will face legislative obstacles in October as he needs to present new candidates for five vacant ministries and pass crucial budget legislation, both of which carry the risk of upsetting the status quo. He will need to ensure foremost that the Kurds remain involved the Iraqi Government, especially on the eve of the Mosul operation. He can do so by providing financial assistance to the Kurdistan Region, which remains in a dire economic crisis. Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani visited Baghdad on September 29 and 30, his first visit in three years, in order to seek significant financial support. Federal assistance to the Kurdistan Region will  keep the Kurds in Baghdad’s folds despite the strain on Arbil-Baghdad relations over Zebari’s dismissal.