The Iraqi forces started on Monday the long-awaited military operation to retake Mosul, the second-largest city of Iraq, from ISIS terrorist group that more than two years ago in a sweeping assault wrested control of the city from the Iraqi security forces.
It took almost a long time before the government made the final preparations for beginning of the anti-terror offensive. A coalition of Iraqi forces including the army, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and the Public Mobilization Forces (PMF) are taking part in the operation.
Alwaght has conducted an interview with the Iraqi member of the parliament Abdul Hadi al-Hassani to discuss an array of issues including the anti-ISIS assault, the participating forces, the course of the operation, the role of the PMF, as well as the presence of the Turkish forces on the Iraqi soil and their effects on the operation and the fears about escape of the ISIS fighters to Syria’s Raqqa and other Syrian territories.
Alwaght: The operation to retake Mosul from ISIS was announced on Monday. What forces are taking part and how are their duties distributed?
Al-Hassani: There are the army forces, the federal police forces, and the PMF. All of them take their orders from the commander-in-chief. The coordination between them and the US-led coalition is strategic. The role of the coalition is restricted to air covering the battling forces. The international coalition has no boots on the ground. The ground operation is only conducted by the Iraqi forces. The international military coalition also provides logistic and intelligence support through data collection and giving them to the Iraqi forces. Concerning the Peshmerga forces, they are distributed to several regions, majorly close to the Kurdish-inhabited areas. The Peshmerga forces are in full coordination with the rest of the Iraqi forces and the central command. Concerning the details of the movement of forces and course of the operation, the commander-in-chief in his press conference with the heads of factions yesterday said the assault starts from south and east of Mosul. They work on liberating Mosul with the least possible casualties, according to him. They also work to open safe passages for the civilians caught in crossfire.
Concerning the role of the PMF, before the start of the operation, they took a preparatory role by data collection through conducting intelligence missions and providing updates about the main positions of ISIS fighters. They actually prepared the battlefield for the fellow forces, not to mention the ongoing logistic backing they offer. The PMF are offering support as they simultaneously concentrate on specific areas to cut the supply lines and encircle the terrorists. So, they are part of the official Iraqi military forces. Their duties are given to them by the Iraqi armed forces’ central command. In fact, there is no distinction between them and the rest of forces but in the politics which is promoted by some with the aim of making splits and divisions and fueling sectarian tensions despite all of the sacrifices made by the PMF and despite proving the readiness for even more sacrifices. Even if we accept that some violations have been made by the PMF during earlier operations, we should not generalize and must agree that they are personal and limited, and the offenders will be tried. It is normal that in any open war mistakes could happen majorly by undisciplined people. This is possible in any country and any army.
The important thing is convergence of the Iraqi forces and thwarting the foreign voices that seek division. This is necessary to liberate our country from the grasp of the terrorists. Our army has gained big potentials in its past battles and is now able to weather any difficulties with least possible tolls in men and facilities.
Alwaght: What about the presence of the Turkish forces? Will this presence pose a hurdle ahead of progress of the anti-terror military operation in Mosul now and then?
Al-Hassani: Without doubt, deployment of Turkish military forces to the Iraqi territory without official permission from the Iraqi government is considered a violation of the Iraqi sovereignty. The move was condemned by the UN, as well as Turkey’s allies. We see no excuse for stay of these forces. The Iraqi army is strong enough and doesn’t need any additional foreign backing. It liberated Ramadi, Salahaddin, Diyala, and other ISIS-held regions, and proved its powers for all. So what they are justifying their presence with is illogical, unless they have other intentions. This draws the doubts of the Iraqis and the world as a whole especially that we see the Turkish insistence for stay on the Iraqi soil. They are not part of the US-led international military coalition and are not coordinating with Iraq. So, this presents obstacles ahead of the Iraqi anti-terror efforts and is seriously doubtful.
What we are afraid of even more is the steps taken by the Turkish forces that could disrupt the anti-ISIS operation in Mosul because they don’t coordinate with the Iraqi forces. We can see that the Turkish forces are the only illegal force in the Iraqi battleground, and are the only forces that don’t coordinate with the Iraqi operation centers. Their role is negative and disruptive. They are not different from ISIS terrorist group because they are considered as invading the Iraqi territory.
Alwaght: We observed swift intimidation and quick retreats by ISIS terrorists from some regions upon declaring start of the military operation in Mosul. How do you see the future of the Mosul battle?
Al-Hassani: According to the experts, the battle will not be hard as some imagine. Mosul fight will be like fights in other places, and ISIS will retreat. Its fighters are in a great frustration. We saw the intimidations among the terror forces following the strong and fatal strikes by our national army. So, very sooner than expected we will be surprised by seeing the Iraqi flag raised in Mosul.
Alwaght: Lebanon’s Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as well as some Syrian officials have warned the Iraqis about possible safe escape of the ISIS forces to Syria, particularly to Raqqa to be used later as trump card after remobilizing their powers. What are the Iraqis going to do to avoid their safe escape to Syria? Have any decisions been made about the issue?
Al-Hassani: We understand well that the battlefield is one and the plot is one. ISIS danger threatens us all. There is no distinction in the battleground. The Iraqi forces should not allow the retreating terror forces flee to Syria. In fact, this is a serious and strategic mistake. ISIS is a germ and allowing them escape will delay the fight. This mistake must be taken into account. There must be a coordination between the Iraqi and Syrian armies to obliterate the terrorists before they cross the border to new safe havens, before reorganizing themselves and their power perhaps under new names just like al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and Ahrar ash-Sham. All of them derive from a single ideology but under different brands. Their thought aims at partitioning and destroying the region. This is a standing project designed by some regional as well as Western governments. So, best possible coordination is needed between Syria and Iraq to steer clear of the later dangers, to allow our nations enjoy security and psychological stability.
The Iraqi people, the PMF, and other Iraqi forces are well aware of the dangers of this issue. So, they will not offer safe passages to the terrorists to allow them flee to Raqqa. This is certain; such a retreat is not a loss for the terrorists but a tactical move and actually is a delay of the confrontation to work on reorganization and remobilization to later intimidate out nations by their bombs and terror actions. So, using experiences in Ramadi battle and with a backing from Mosul’s residents, the army will design the right plans to uproot the terror factions forever and prevent their escape from the justice.
Alwaght: What is the US role in Mosul battle?
Al-Hassani: The US role is confined to air support, data collection and intelligence work, as at the same time it is taking advisory role to back the Iraqi army and other combating forces. This is as part of the international coalition and not the US as a single country.