Mosul, Sadr’s Call on Assad to Resign and Kirkuk are Iraq’s Menu for the Day
While we do not hear any new news from the Mosul front, we see other developments filling the screen when it comes to Iraq’s. Of those, two issues surface: the war of words around raising the Kurdish Region’s flag on Kirkuk and the statement of Muqtada Al Sadr that Assad has to go.
Operations in western Mosul were resumed after a temporary suspension following the death of more than 100 Iraqi civilian in a U.S. air strikes on March 17 in the Mosul Jadidah neighborhood. Gen. Najm Abdullah Al Jabouri, head of the Nineveh Operations Command explained the decision to slow down the offensive. “We agreed among the commanders to not depend on the air strikes because that means we will maybe lose a lot of people”, he said.
This was the right decision. ISIL has no way to go anyway. Moreover, the operations restarted few days ago in a more cautious fashion. However, the number of civilian victims will remain high, not due to the liberators’ operations, but due to ISIL’s savagery. The murderous cult killed scores of civilians trying to flee the besieged city. The only way for those civilians now is to join the underground resistance groups inside the city and fight back. Those who cannot fight can provide all kinds of support for the brave men trying to hunt ISIL’s shaky fighters in the streets at night. After all, the number of ISIL fighters left in Mosul does not exceed 1000, according to Iraqi and US estimates.
Maybe, this option, if encouraged by the Iraqi and US forces, could provide a way out from the dilemma of Mosul. This dilemma is obvious-if the attacking forces resume operations full force, more civilians will die, and if the city is besieged for long, the civilians will die as well. Small arms given to groups of civilians will enable them to respond to ISIL and hopefully weaken the gang from within. There is a slim chance that this option will work in a reasonable frame of time, but the other choices are not bright neither.
What is essential here is to understand that liberating Mosul gives a tremendous psychological boost to everyone in the region, but it will not mean the end of Iraq’s woes.
The main issue in Iraq has been, and will be for few years to come, the form of governance. We still see attempts to save the current failed system or to reform it, while the proper approach is the federal system that has already been stated in Iraq’s constitution. And if the existing system fails politically, it can still be supported by Iran to remain for as long as the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) can protect it.
As we previously wrote, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, is Iran’s “High Commissioner” for Iraq. He guarantees not only that the regime remains as is with all Tehran’s stooges in their places, but also that larger sections of Iraq squarely fall under Iran’s control.
Soleimani arrived in Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan’s eastern part on April 10 and held several meetings with leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK is locked in a heated conflict with the President of the Kurdish region Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). For some time now, pro-Iran forces and PKK forces attack the KRG Peshmerga amid rising pressure on Barazani.
While Soleimani is the “Guardian” of the political system in its current form, the Shia religious leader Muqtada Al Sadr is escalating his attacks against this political system in a unique Iraqi form of populism. However, Sadr deserves to be studied closer as he represents a new version of Iraq’s religious and political influencers.
Sadr challenged Vilayat-e Faqih (The Guardianship of the Jurist), which is the cardinal principle of Iran’s regime. His followers were chanting in public squares “Iran Out!”, and now he is calling Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad, who is the center of Iran’s strategy for the Levant, and its main investment in the region, to leave Damascus.
Soleimani has been always able to contain Al Sadr and dismiss his populism. Sadr did not before dissent from the Shia Block that run the country, whatever the noise he may make. Critics of Sadr say he is that he is trying to mobilize all dissenters behind him to move them slowly, in critical times, to side with the Shia Block. Another view is that he genuinely calls for reform and a reduction in Iran’s interference in all details related to Iraq. Time will tell if Sadr is for real, or if he is playing a new version of the old usual politics.
Mostly, Sadr is an expression of Iraq’s Shi’ism versus Iran’s. The two religious capitals of the Shia world have been first Najaf in Iraq, and second Qom in Iran. Now, it is the other way around. Qom plays a dominant role supported by the capabilities of the state in Tehran.
However, Soleimani does not seem bothered with the noise of Sadr in Baghdad. What he seems to be working on is the north and the east of Iraq. His mission is to expand Tehran’s control there, and he is using all the tools available, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the feud between the main two Kurdish parties, and even, in certain occasions, the PKK, to reach that goal.
The central issue of Soleimani’s talks in Sulaymaniyah was the issue of Kirkuk. The city has always been the subject of dispute between the Arabs and the Kurds. Moreover, Turkey claims, from time to time, that Kirkuk, which is rich in oil, belongs to Iraq’s Turkmenistan.
The Governorate of Kirkuk took the decision of raising the flag of KRG (Kurdish Region Government) side by side with the Iraqi flag on all government buildings in Kirkuk. Most probably this was done with the approval of Erbil. The KDP finds it an effective electoral move to gain more votes in the coming elections. But the timing of the move, and its consequences, will be only negative for Iraq and for the KRG alike.
Arab Sunnis and Arab Shias are standing together, in a rare manifest of unity, in opposition to the move. Turkey is opposed. And Soleimani may use the issue to isolate the KRG in favor of the PUK.
The Kirkuk flag and the Sadr’s call regarding ousting Assad are not significant developments in Iraq today. Soleimani’s visit to Sulaymaniyah is. Yet, the most important spot remains Mosul. The liberation of Mosul may help create a new environment in Iraq in order to save this country from itself .