Leaders of Iraq’s Ninawa Province, home to many of the Christians displaced by ISIS earlier this year, have announced plans for early next year to reclaim the provincial capital of Mosul, in an offensive which may draw support from the U.S. military.
London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the planned military operation will involve a total of 80,000 troops, including Iraqi federal forces from Baghdad, Ninawa police, and Kurdish forces — known as Peshmerga — from Erbil, the northern city that has been a place of refuge for many refugees from Ninawa. The displaced fighters will be trained in Duberdan, west of Erbil, said Ninawa council member Ghazwan Hamid in the article.
But according to Asharq Al-Awsat, Kurdish spokesman Halgord Hikmat “ruled out Peshmerga participation in the liberation of Mosul,” saying that the militia is “committed to the existing international coalition, of which the Peshmerga forces are an official member… As far as Mosul is concerned, the Peshmerga has its own plans to combat ISIS.”
Since ISIS first began controlling territory in Iraq, the Kurds have been far more effective at combating their advances than Iraqi federal troops. As the Ninawa leaders announced their plan on Monday, the Kurdish Rudaw news site continued to deliver news of Peshmerga holding their ground against ISIS outside Mosul, boasting in one article that “the Peshmerga suffered no casualties but that the ISIS militants had left several dead bodies behind.”
Michael Knights, a Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that “it’s hard to imagine the Peshmerga standing back and doing nothing to support this kind of effort.” Of the Kurds’ desired outcome from their participation in liberating Mosul, Knights said, “they seem to want something for their involvement int he liberation of Mosul: US government direct military-military relations with Peshmerga sustained over the long term.”
The announcement also comes at a time of transition for the Iraqi military. On November 12, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi fired 26 military commanders, denouncing “corruption” within the federal army and urging a more competent response to the threat posed by ISIS.
Mosul first came into the international spotlight in June, when it became the first major Iraqi city captured by the Islamic State terror group. Widely referred to as “Iraq’s second city,” its roots go back to the ancient city of Nineveh, which features in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic accounts of the prophet Jonah. Soon after seizing Mosul, ISIS demolished an ancient mosque said to contain Jonah’s tomb. They have also destroyed numerous churches and other places of worship deemed unacceptable by their narrow interpretation of Islam. (RELATED: ISIS Militants Destroy Biblical Site)
The U.S. government has yet to announce whether it plans to expand its Iraqi campaign against ISIS to active ground troops, to complement the 1,500 troops sent earlier this month to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces. But according to Knights, the U.S. will “almost certainly play a role in training and supporting this liberation force from a secure base in Kurdistan. The question is how intensively they’ll be involved, but the U.S. will be orchestrating for sure.”
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