The Consequences of the Popular Mobilization Forces' Involvement in the Battle of Mosul

Wednesday، November 16، 2016
The Consequences of the Popular Mobilization Forces' Involvement in the Battle of Mosul

The Popular Mobilization Forces have overstepped the boundaries of their role in the operation to liberate Mosul, as initially they were to only take part in logistical matters. The group has sought to directly partake in main combat operations and have come up with a plan to move out on their own. They are even attempting f to expand their role to include operations in Syria. This matter reflects the role of militias in carrying out the will of Iran, especially when it comes to rearranging the political order in Iraq and supporting the Assad regime in Syria, the militias would do support Iran in such a manner, that it would have drastic effects on the future of both states. 

The Popular Mobilization Forces are competing with other military factions taking part in the liberation of Mosul, and are acting in accordance with their military capability and strategic location in Tel Affar outside of Mosul. The militia includes units from the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Peshmerga militia that are spread out in the Sinjar province. 

The reality of the situation is that there is competition going on between the two local powers in Iraq. This is more of an extension of the struggle between Iran and Turkey in a number of ways, the most apparent is military competition, which will pave the way for a new political order in Mosul after its liberation.

Multiple Mission Roles:

The roles undertaken by the Popular Mobilization Forces in the liberation of Mosul are numerous, but can be summed up as follows:

1. Logistical Support: this is the role that was agreed upon between the US and the Iraqi governments after the conclusion that the Popular Mobilization Forces had used ethnic violence in the battle to liberate Tikrit in April 2015. This agreement became known as the agreement of Tikrit. The agreement stipulated that the role of the militia would be limited to logistical support only in main areas of combat. The role of the militias needed  to be re-affirmed due to the militia’s lack of compliance when they liberated Falluja in June 2016 and committed a number of infringements against its populace in such a way that it forced the Iraqi government to officially make them part of the government’s infrastructure. They moved to place the militias under the command of the Iraq Armed Forces leadership and the Prime Minister, which made many see this as a move to absorb external criticism and place the militia’s participation in the battle of Mosul fall under a legal framework.

2. Adopting a Unilateral Plan: the militia did not commit to the agreed upon role prior to the battle, which it has done countless times before. With the end of the first week of military operations which saw the liberation of some villages on the outskirts of Mosul, there came a declaration by the government and the international coalition to halt combat operations to reassess the situation. This order was not followed by the militia, and they continued to proceed with their own operations in Tel Afar and its surroundings. 

In this respect, the vice president of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi El Mohandes, stated to the media that the role of the militia is the most difficult in scope and also the most important strategically, adding that the battle does not only target the city of Mosul, but also wide reaching areas surrounding the city. These are considered to be the centers of control for ISIS leadership, as well key locations of supply lines which tie the group to the provinces of Salah El Din and Al Anbar, and more importantly, Syria’s border. 

3.  A Regional Role that Transcends Borders: in light of Iranian influence, the spokesperson for the militia, Ahmed El Asady, stated that the militia will seek to become involved in missions of a special nature that not only cross borders, but also go beyond the limits of its current role. It aims to cut off the supply route between Mosul and Raqqa, with the aim of hindering reinforcements from ISIS, or even preventing them from escaping towards Syria, despite clearly knowing that this route falls directly into the hands of the Kurdish forces located in Sinjar. It seems that this step has aided in preventing the international coalition’s main plan from succeeding in light of the unilateral moves of the militia.

The militia has been hinting that it will, in the future, take part in the liberation of Raqqa. This matter has raised its ambitions to play a central role in Iraqi Central Security as an alternative to the Iraqi National Army, this ambition indicates a regional role with an ethnic agenda is being adopted by Iran and the Assad regime. 

Various Consequences:

Without a doubt the actions of the Popular Mobilization Forces will lead to a number of consequences, which can be summed up as follows:

1. Solidifying the Ethnic Nature of the Operation: In the aforementioned combat operations in Tikrit and Falluja, some of the reports on the various phases of combat in Mosul indicate that the militia’s behavior has not changed towards the issue of ethnic violence when in a combat role. 

Despite Mosul being overwhelmingly Sunni, the militia has been seen carrying flags and banners of an ethnic nature more often, which creates an expectation of increased ethnic violence once the militia are inside the city itself, despite previous warnings. 

2. Reinforcing the Changing Demographics in Iraq: The interference of the militia in combat operations goes hand-in-hand with the fear that there is a will to change the demographics of Mosul in order to make it less of a Sunni capital in Iraq. 

3. Increased Regional and Local Competition: infringements by the militia in their role in Mosul were not a surprise, as their position in Tel Afar is where a Turkish majority of Shiite Muslims live on the other end is the Kurdish force, which is said to be reflective of a power struggle that has a national, ethnic and factional perspective. There is more than one sign of the previously mentioned consequences:

The first sign is that the competition between the militia and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces has almost become open.  This is an old tension and has been seen in previous battles, such as the battle to liberate Sinjar in 2014. In the current phase the polarity has become clearer, particularly since the battle of Mosul. The Peshmerga has a clear goal of expanding in the geographic area of Mosul, seeing it as a natural extension of Kurdish geography, as they continue to attempt to redraw the Kurdish region, as it has not yet been settled. 

In this respect, a number of Kurdish statements note that the areas which have been freed by the Peshmerga will become a part of the Kurdish region, and that this is the natural price for liberation and not just an expected. On the other hand, the Popular Mobilization Forces have become very prominent in their ethnic role, seeing as how some of the residents of the city are Shiites.

The second sign is that the local competition between the various factions has been reflected in the regional competition between Tehran and Ankara, both of whom have policies that are different in dealing with the current situation in the region.

Ankara is insisting to defend the Sunni factions in Mosul and they have backed this claim up through historic references. They have justified their presence there with an Ottoman era agreement which stipulates that Turkey would protect the Sunni sect, which requires the establishment of a military base in Basheeka.

It can be said that both parties are competing with each other to gain areas of influence and that this threatens the future plans of both parties. Iran is looking to balance the power of Turkey by building a military base in Qeera to the south of Mosul. Qeera is a city that the International coalition has used as one of its command and control centers, this is in the case that Turkey continues its operations at the base in Basheeka. 

These intermittent moves point to an overall infringement by the Popular Mobilization Forces for their role in the various battles with ISIS, due in a large part to their ethnic makeup and not to the agreements that were initially put in place. It is more of an expression of the reality of the situation where there is a non-official entity being formed in tandem with the Armed Forces, and is playing a role for outside regional parties, specifically Iran.

Thus, it can be said that the liberation of Mosul from ISIS will represent a period of stability in status, yet it will also represent the beginning of another battle which, is beginning to take the shape of a regional war.

Keywords: IraqMosulISISPopular Mobilization ForcesBattle for Mosul

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