Charm offensive on Kurds before Baghdad's Mosul assault

Charm offensive on Kurds before Baghdad's Mosul assault
With officials in Erbil refusing to commit their troops outside Kurdish regions, a sweetener from Baghdad appears to have won over the Peshmerga.
4 min read
09 December, 2014
Yawar appears ready to commit Kurdish forces to an assault on Mosul [AFP]

Peshmerga and Iraqi forces in Erbil have agreed to make the liberation of Mosul a top priority, according to a Kurdish source. Mosul, Iraq's second most populous city, fell to the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) in June during a lightning offensive, and is the largest and most prestigious city under the armed group's control.

The decision comes amid a new spirit of cooperation between forces opposed to the Islamic State group, whose resistance to the "caliphate" had been dampened by disagreements and divisions.

But following a visit to the Kurdistan region by Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi last month, the Kurdish Regional Government, Iraqi government and US military agreed to form a supreme committee for joint military planning.

On the offensive

At the Erbil meeting, intelligence and officers from the Peshmerga, Iraqi army officials, and US advisers underscored the importance of retaking Mosul with a flexible strategy drawn up to accommodate any eventuality on the battlefield.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi agreed earlier this month, for the first time since 2003, to release $1 billion from Baghdad's defence budget to the Peshmerga. This will bring Kurdish forces' military equipment up to Iraqi army standards. This follows a recent agreement between Baghdad and Kurdistan over oil revenues and the government budget.

The Kurdish source believes Abadi's sweetener was an effort to enlist Peshmerga support in the upcoming offensive of Mosul.

Kurdish officials have been unequivocal in their opposition to sending Peshmerga troops to fight outside the Kurdistan region. US pressure, however, appears to have prompted a new position from Erbil.

Countdown to the attack

Previously, US and Iraqi officials had given an approximate deadline of spring 2015 for expelling the militants from the cities in Iraq's Nineveh province, which includes its capital Mosul.

However, due to the poor shape and discipline of the Iraqi police and army forces, this date may yet be revised. Baghdad's recent inducements to encourage the Peshmerga to take part in the battle are most likely shaped by the Kurdish forces' successes in Kobane and other areas against the Islamic State group.

The Kurds would be able to send 10,000 battle-hardened and well trained troops from the north and east of Mosul during the offensive, with the Iraqi army attacking from the south.

     Abadi agreed to release $1 billion from Baghdad’s defence budget to the Peshmerga.

These soldiers will be crucial to the success of the campaign on the ground and, without the participation of Kurdish forces, Baghdad would have to rely on the US stepping up airstrikes. Success would not be guaranteed, particularly as IS militants appear to have adapted themselves well to months of aerial assaults. This includes using camouflage to avoid detection from the air.

Reinforcing the front line

Lt Gen Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general at the ministry of Peshmerga affairs, said that arms and ammunition had finally started to arrive in preparation for the battle to liberate Mosul.

"A large shipment of weapons and ammunition arrived in Erbil International Airport on the evening of Sunday, December 7," said Yawar in a statement. Military equipment would be distributed to police officers ahead of the assault, the statement continued.

The nature, type, and source of these weapons was not disclosed, but Yawar did say that 5,000 police officers are undergoing training in the Bashiqa region north of Mosul. New weapons would arrive, the statement read, before the liberation of the city begins.

Volunteers in Erbil

Soldiers and civilians from Nineveh, who took refuge in the Kurdistan region after the fall of Mosul, have started to sign up for a volunteer force to fight the Islamic State group. They will be trained and then integrated into a combined force to liberate Mosul.

In addition to convincing the Peshmerga to take part in the battle, the US military wants to arm tribesmen in Nineveh, also to compensate for the Iraqi army's weaknesses and non-readiness. However, this bid has to overcome many obstacles, including resistance from powerful Iraqi political forces that do not want to empower the tribes.

A tribal delegation from Nineveh and Anbar provinces, including the governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, visited Washington recently to request arms for their forces, in preparation for the expulsion of IS militants from Iraq.

Baghdad has been apprehensive about arming the Iraqi tribes, in case the Sunni groups become the next threat to government authority once the Islamic State group are expelled from the country.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Al Araby Al Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.