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Archive for the ‘Mosul’ Category

Iraq: The Next War

Patrick Cockburn reports from Mosul:

There has been a mounting number of clashes between predominantly Arab Iraqi army units and the Kurdish peshmerga forces along a 260-mile line that stretches diagonally across the northern third of Iraq, from Sinjar to Khanaqin in the south.

The tensions underpinning the conflict have always attracted less international attention than the US-Iraqi war or the Shia-Sunni conflict.

Yet if the conflict develops into a full-scale war it will complicate President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw 142,000 US soldiers from Iraq over 16 months and redeploy many of them to the US military effort in Afghanistan.

That war will be bloody, it will be long, and it will tear Iraq asunder. As for news coverage, don’t hold your breath — there aren’t many old hands like Cockburn left in Iraq, and the macho bloggers who have taken their place have neither the local contacts nor the language skills to roam around on their own.

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Afghanistan: Lessons from Mosul

I have no idea whether the strategic reviews ordered by Obama will check the free fall in Afghanistan, but here’s a suggestion: Instead of trying to import the counterinsurgency tactics it employed successfully in Iraq, the U.S. military should take a hard look at where it failed.

In a word: Mosul.

After years of much-touted offensives* by both Iraqi and U.S. forces, the northern city remains the deadliest piece of urban real estate in Iraq. A year ago, two large-scale Iraqi Army operations were supposed to break the backbone of the Sunni insurgency and end the cycle of violence fed by nationalism, crime, Islamic fanaticism and general despair. It didn’t. The 15-month tour of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, one of the most accomplished and proficient units in the U.S. Army, was by all accounts a mixed bag. Violence was reduced, but car bombs still wreak havoc, politicians are assassinated, IEDs kill innocents, and after local elections upset the political balance of power, Kurdish-Arab tensions threaten to escalate into war.

The lesson? There are simply too many actors involved in the multilayered conflict in Mosul for classic COIN to work. First of all, the fault lines are not sectarian but ethnic. You can’t protect the population by walling off neighbourhoods, because you wouldn’t know whom to wall in and whom to keep out. Second, you can’t cut off terrorist infiltration because you don’t have enough troops, and a single dirt berm doesn’t do it. Third, you can’t pay off the hardcore militants, because they don’t want your money; and you can’t pay off the gangsters because they don’t need your money. And fourth, you can’t stop the IEDs, because there’s always a jobless IDP willing to dump a pressure plate on a road for ten bucks.

A porous international border, lucrative smuggling routes, a restless refugee population, transnational jihadis mingling with local nationalists, and an explosive ethnic mix — if this rings a bell, it’s because the war in Mosul has more in common with the morass we face in Afghanistan than it has with Baghdad, Anbar or even Diyala. And the fact that the city remains a bleeding wound six years after the invasion should give us pause.

[*UPDATE: Here we go again.]

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Iraq: Abandoning Mosul

Despite years of military offensives, Mosul remains a running sore, and there is no end in sight to the bloodshed. Unfortunately, the city’s troubles will only get worse, come 2009.

The 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, the American unit responsible for bringing a semblance of order to the chaotic metropolis, will soon end its 15-month deployment, and god knows who is going to replace them. Then, in July, under a provision of the newly-signed Status of Forces Agreement, U.S. troops will vacate the Combat Outposts they established earlier this year in Mosul’s worst neighbourhoods, often under fire. They will fall back to to their sprawling Forward Operating Base called Marez and, as the saying goes, commute to the fight.

Whether the Iraqi Army and police can hold the line on their own remains to be seen.  Knowing Mosul’s explosive mix of nationalism, islamism, criminalism and general despair, I’m not holding my breath.

My coverage of Mosul is here.

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Seven months after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s much-vaunted offensive to clear Mosul of insurgents, the killing continues. An excellent piece by Sam Dagher in today’s New York Times predicts things will get even worse, as the Kurds and Arabs vie for power in the devastated city (see this blog’s header). Interestingly, the U.S. military has all but decided to sit this one out:

Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will ‘step aside,’ General Thomas said, rather than ‘have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.’

I find this approach problematic. It’s exactly this kind of “stepping aside” while playing kingmaker that lead to chaos in 2003. The U.S. can hardly claim to be a disinterested party in the dispute after propping up Maliki politically and having his back in every military operation his poorly performing army has undertaken in Mosul. You need to clean up your own mess, guys — even if it means taking casualties while keeping the Iraqis from ripping each other’s throats open.

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Mosul: SNAFU

Juan Cole has an update:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the security situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in Mosul. Yesterday a bombing killed 2 and wounded 90 persons, and a municipal leader was assassinated; in addition, a roadside bombing killed 3 US troops and their interpreter. An informed source told the Baghdad daily that the security campaign in the northern city of 1.7 mn. led by PM Nuri al-Maliki was deeply flawed. He said that there had been no coordination between the government forces sent into Mosul with the police in their 80 local HQs, nor with the 48 offices of parties that maintain powerful militias.

Peshmerga troops of the Kurdistan Alliance in Mosul began being replaced on Wednesday by units of the Iraqi Army after severe pressure was exerted by the people of the city, tribal elders, and notables. (Mosul is about 80 percent Arab, but there is a Kurdish minority; residents fear that Kurdistan is trying to annex the city). An Iraqi Army source said that in the Waterfall District in the east of the city, a Peshmerga unit had already been switched out with an Iraqi Army one.

I hate to say I told you so:

“A lion’s peep in Mosul” — May 12
“O.K. Corral, Maliki style” — May 13
“Come out with your hands in the air” — May 16
“Informed Comment on Mosul” — May 19
“Mosul: Lights on, nobody home” — May 21
“Déjà vu Mosul” — May 25
“Iraq: Yazidis under attack” — May 27
“Insurgency in Mosul: Now you see us, now you don’t” — May 30
“Mosul: Finally, a reporter on the ground” — June 1
“Mosul: Life Is Like It Used to Be” — June 10

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Just a short note: the June issue of CTC Sentinel is chock-full of goodies, including what is probably the best analysis to date on the insurgency in Mosul.

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A month after the headline-grabbin’, insurgent-nabbin’ Operation Lion’s Roar, here’s what life is like in Mosul today:

  • A roadside bomb detonated near the cultural group petrol station downtown Mosul city. Five people were injured
  • A roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in Al-Sukar neighborhood in Mosul city.Two policemen were injured.
  • Gunmen killed two prominent Sheikhs in Mosul city from Ubeid and Abassi tribes who were on their way from Mosul to Tal Afar.
  • Gunmen launched a propelled grenade on joint forces from Iraqi police and American armies in Zanjili town. Two Iraqi policemen were injured.
  • A roadside bomb detonated in Tawafa neighborhood in Mosul city.One policeman was injured.

Courtesy of McClatchy.

My previous rants:

“A lion’s peep in Mosul” — May 12
“O.K. Corral, Maliki style” — May 13
“Come out with your hands in the air” — May 16
“Informed Comment on Mosul” — May 19
“Mosul: Lights on, nobody home” — May 21
“Déjà vu Mosul” — May 25
“Iraq: Yazidis under attack” — May 27
“Insurgency in Mosul: Now you see us, now you don’t” — May 30
“Mosul: Finally, a reporter on the ground” — June 1

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The New York Times has a well-reported piece on the troubles in Mosul, clearly spelling out what most of us (alas, not the Reuters guys in Baghdad) have known all along:

Maj. Adam Boyd, the intelligence officer for the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, described the Sunni insurgency here as a dozen groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq, a radical Islamic group that insurgents have put forward as an umbrella group for jihadist fighters in northern Iraq, and Sunni nationalist organizations like the 1920 Revolution Brigades and a Baath Party revival group called Al Awda.

Mosul, and the area around it, is also believed to be a hide-out for some top fugitive Baath Party officials, including Izat Ibrahim al-Duri, one of the kings in the original most-wanted deck of playing cards distributed to American troops.

Other Sunni insurgent groups active in the city are the Army of Islam, the Army of Muhammad and Ansar al-Islam, the group formerly based in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The story gives way too much credit to the Iraqi Army, but I guess that’s unavoidable now that even platoon leaders in the 3ACR are taught to praise the IA’s performance to visiting reporters.

Also today:

The NEFA Foundation has translated a new video and a text communiqué from the Islamic State of Iraq, claiming that AQI is far from defeated in Nineveh. More here.

UPDATE: Dr. iRack weighs in. He’s a wise man, but in this I mostly disagree. I’ve followed the violence in Mosul for months on an almost body-by-body basis, and honestly — nothing has changed. Deals may have been struck, and the days of spectacular truck bombings may be over for now, but the underlying problems remain unsolved.

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After the widely advertised government “crackdown” in Mosul, things are returning to normal. The lesson, in caps: YOU DO NOT ELIMINATE AN INSURGENCY BY MASS DETENTIONS.

(Note to the Baghdad press corps: Please pull your head out of your butt and go report. No more blindly parroting the Maliki “al-Qaeda is on the run” meme, okay?)

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Insurgents who vanished from Mosul before the recent government operations have regrouped elsewhere in Nineveh, terrorising the Yazidi communities west of the city, Azzaman reports.

‘The residential settlements and villages of the district of Sinjar are lost to gunmen. They have burned official records and caused a lot of damage and many casualties,’ one source told the newspaper.

Another said the gunmen were moving freely in pick-up cars in the mainly Arab inhabited district of Qahtaniya and the predominantly Yazidi town of Sinjar.

You might recall that 796 people were killed in the war’s deadliest car bomb attack in two Yazidi towns on August 14, 2007.

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