Is Mosul the Kurds’ Fight?

By Ata Hariri:

ISIS terrorist checkpoint, Mosul

ISIS checkpoint, Mosul

As talk increases about the possibility off a 2016 offensive against Mosul, one key question has only been skirted around: Whether or not the Peshmerga will play a significant role in the actual attack on Mosul. While they have already played an important role, cutting off supply routes, driving back ISIS forces in the Nineveh Plains, and generally harassing them, it is still unclear if they will fight for the city of Mosul itself.

There are good arguments on either side. On the one hand a clear Kurdish role in seizing back Iraq’s second city from ISIS would definitely create an international air of support for Kurdish independence, and Turkish criticism would have to be muted given the obvious generosity of such an act. It would also mean that it would be harder for the Iraqi government to play hardball over Kirkuk and other such disputed areas. But at the same time, should Kurdish soldiers really be fighting and dying for a prize that they know will be Iraq’s? Especially given the fact that Mosul was once a Kurdish city, and it was only through the cynical and brutal actions of the Ottoman Empire that the Kurds have been deprived of it. Alas the unrelenting effect of demographics after the horrors the Kurds went through in the early 20th century mean that in no way can Mosul now be called a Kurdish city, however treasured its position in our history. This is of course not to say that the rights of Kurds in Mosul should not be guarded, and that there should not be a Kurdish role in the inevitable trials of ISIS collaborators after liberation.

Peshmargas on the outskirts of Mosul

Peshmargas on the outskirts of Mosul

There is another point however, and that is one of moral hazard. The Iraqi government has consistently lied to, and messed around with the KRG, and has shown little remorse for its action, with al-Abadi merely doing it a little less overtly than his predecessor. If then the KRG was to turn around and put its newly united Peshmerga at the disposal of such a government, would that same government not then believe that their previous actions, having incurred no kind of wrath or even inconvenience, could be simply repeated? So the question posed, should the KRG decide to get directly involved in the assault on Mosul, is of how to communicate to the Iraqi government that their behaviour is simply unacceptable. Clearly just telling them is not enough, as they do not listen, yet the KRG can also not afford to go to the other extreme and cut all ties. So some sort of middle way is required to both make the Iraqi government understand that something must change, while not shutting down lines of communication. One way would be to make a deal with the other devil and make the oil relationship purely with Turkey. Given that the KRG, which has co-operated with the Turks in the past anyway, has now started selling a great deal of oil to Turkey with plans to increase the amount, it does not seem so unpalatable.

The solution I propose is, I hope, a more holistic one. The KRG should make no big public announcement about whether it will or will not be involved in the assault on Mosul. Rather it should have the Peshmerga continue its highly effective attacks on ISIS supply routes and isolated outposts, both helping the beleaguered communities still under ISIS rule and ensuring that the eventual assault on Mosul runs smoothly. Here the Iraqi government will still have to put its house in order to retake Mosul, as the Peshmerga will not be there to do all the work for them, as has essentially happened in other parts of northern Iraq. It will also create good will in parts of the Iraqi government through the liaisons and meetings that will have to happen. More crucially though it will show the USA and the other key players in any KRG bid for full independence that while the Kurds have consistently played an important role in Iraq, and done it generously, they will not be pushed over and will not always clean up the Iraqi’s mess. Admittedly this is not perfect, as the lines between what is and is not Mosul will become increasingly blurred as the anti-ISIS forces advance, and there is always the strong possibility of a complete failure of Iraqi forces. But in these ever changing and difficult times we Kurds, and the KRG especially, must tread a careful yet bold path in order to reach independence and freedom.

Ata Hariri is a Kurdish student living in London, studying political science at the LSE.

One Response to Is Mosul the Kurds’ Fight?
  1. Video
    January 22, 2016 | 11:16

    Shooting of Kurds waving white flag caught on camera (GRAPHIC VIDEO)

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