The progress of Iraqi forces in their effort to re-take Mosul has gathered pace. Many Daesh fighters have been pulled out of the city to consolidate their power back in the rest of the terrain they control.
Daesh have used suicide attacks, carried out a diversionary operation in Kirkuk, and tried to halt Iraqi forces with clouds of toxic smoke from a burning sulphur plant; but it still seems unlikely that their fighters will be able to resist the combined forces of Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi army, backed by US and UK airstrikes.
Several Christian villages have now been taken on the east of the city by the Kurdish peshmerga. Under an agreement between the Kurdistan Regional Goverment [KRG], the Baghdad Government and the US, the peshmerga are supposed not to enter the city itself. Most of the territory so far re-occupied by Kurdish forces was under Kurdish control before the Daesh conquests, but every side in the anti-Daesh coalition believes the others have motives beyond the defeat of Daesh. The Kurds will try to take increased control of land and resources.
The Shia militias allied with Iraqi government forces are also banned from entering the city. Those militias are hostile to the Sunni majority population in Mosul which, they believe, caved in to Daesh without a fight. Those Shia militias took the lead in the defeat of Daesh in Fallujah, despite the government’s attempts to claim that victory for the Iraqi army.
Abadi insists that the Shia militas should not enter Mosul itself, but the influence which they and Iran hold over his government and other institutions including the army remains a threat to a politically stable Iraq. Abadi has attempted to make limited political reforms, but many of those have been blocked. He remains under pressure from the Shia militias and their clerical leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr, who whip up anger against the government’s weakness against Daesh and against the growing power of the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
Many Sunni Arabs have a growing hatred for Daesh. But Iraq’s experience of Shia-sectarian rule under both Maliki and Abadi mean that there are real chances of a sectarian stand-off as Daesh sympathisers and Sunni sectarians defend themselves from the army while the government will continue to ignore the concerns of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, the minority in Iraq but the great majority in Mosul. Civilians may be caught in a sectarian bloodbath, and the military defeat of Daesh will not destroy many of the underlying tensions that led to their emergence.
Reports have already emerged that in Tinah, in northern Iraq, a unit of the Iraqi army entered an area prepared for refugees and stole tents and water tanks. Aid and refugee supplies are vulnerable to corrupt officials, sectarian politicians and criminals.
Democratic oversight over aid distribution and infrastructure contracts is key. The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, and the local labour movement, must have rights to scrutiny. So far only 6,000 people have fled the city. This is a tiny proportion of the 700,000 it is estimated will leave as the fighting enters Mosul itself.
Leaflets dropped on behalf of the Iraqi government have called on people to stay put, to give up fighting for Daesh, and to help the troops as they enter. Daesh has responded by executing up to 300 men and boys, supposedly for planning to rebel against Daesh.