President Obama’s decision 14 days ago to approve Iraqi and Peshmerga forces undertaking the liberation of Mosul has well and truly blown up in his face with the news that the Iran funded Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have now joined in the attack.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter certainly did not anticipate this development when announcing Obama’s decision:
“The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead.”Neither did Operation Inherent Resolve Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend who stated:
"But to be clear, the thousands of ground combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis"The involvement of 15000 Shiite PMU militiamen – designated by the Iraqi Government as “an independent military formation” – could aggravate already existing sectarian divisions in Iraq.
This could eventually lead to a Shiite land grab of territory liberated by the PMU.
The retention of land conquered by the Peshmerga forces is also a realistic possibility.
Iraq as a distinct and separate territorial unit could be in real danger of being carved up.
Obama must be reeling after further reading on that:
“Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for the Iraq-sanctioned paramilitary known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), said on Saturday that they will fight alongside Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces in Syria after finishing their battle against ISIS in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Al Arabiya News Channel reported"Obama’s inability to remove Assad from power in Syria during the last five years has been a spectacular presidential policy failure.
His justified hatred of Assad – propped up by Russia and Iran – has seen him refuse to accept Russia’s invitation to jointly seek a United Nations Security Council Resolution to first take military action against Islamic State in Syria and then try to resolve Syria’s future after Islamic State has been defeated there.
Obama could not fail to be also very worried about Al-Arabiya’s further report:
“… Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, said they launched an offensive Saturday along with other large militias toward the town of Tel Afar, which had a Shiite majority before it fell to ISIS [Islamic State] in 2014. Iranian forces are advising the fighters and Iraqi aircraft are providing airstrikes”Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan said on 30 October that Ankara – which already has a military presence in Iraq – would act if forces from the PMU abuse civilians in their fight for the town of Tal Afar.
"Tal Afar is a very sensitive issue for us. We definitely do not regard it [Shia militia involvement] positively in Tal Afar and Sinjar"
Tal Afar is a totally Turkmen city, with half Shia and half Sunni Muslims. We do not judge people by their religious affiliation, we regard them all as Muslims.
But if Hashid Shaabi [PMU] terrorises the region, our response would be different."In other parts of Iraq retaken from Islamic State – such as Fallujah and Ramadi – there have been allegations of Shia fighters mistreating Sunni civilians.
Iraq is fast becoming a tinderbox containing different elements and interests that could set Iraq ablaze – should Islamic State eventually be defeated in Mosul.
Obama’s decision to commence the attack on Mosul appears to have been made without any real thought to the possible involvement of the PMU and Turkey.
Why Obama thought it that urgent to commence the battle for Mosul at this late stage of his Presidency is a question that will be increasingly asked over the coming week – especially by Clinton and Trump.