ERBIL’S ENDGAME – by Bilal Wahab – Bilal Wahab is a Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute. Post-War Watch – July 20, 2017
Preparations for the independence referendum highlight political and generational divides in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Post-War Watch: On September 25, 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is scheduled to hold a referendum on independence, beginning what its leaders describe as a process of secession from Iraq. Baghdad and its regional partners do not approve of the KRG’s move, although it had been expected. Should it proceed, will the referendum and its aftermath eventually lead to statehood in Iraqi Kurdistan? Were there other motives behind Erbil’s referendum announcement?
Bilal Wahab: An independent Kurdistan is the ultimate goal and has been the dream for every Kurdish nationalist movement since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – German Institute for International and Security Affairs – SWP Comments
Since 2014, the Shiite Badr Organization, led by its Secretary General Hadi al-Amiri, has become one of the main actors in Iraqi politics. This development was largely possible due to the successes of its paramilitary units in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). The Badr Organization, which relies strongly on support from Tehran, has thus become the most important instrument of Iranian politics in its neighbouring country. Tehran’s aim is to exert as much influence as possible on the central government in Baghdad and, at the same time, build a strong militia that depends on it. Since Badr established control over the province of Diyala and the Interior Ministry of Baghdad, the organization has grown appreciably and is now playing a role similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Badr is also part of a growing “Shiite International” which supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and aggravates religious conflicts between Sunnites and Shiites through its violent acts. The combination of these factors makes the organization an increasingly important obstacle to the future stabilization of Iraq.
MESOP NEWS REPORT : THE COMPLETE RETREAT OF THE WEST – PolicyWatch 2833 – The Ceasefire & U.S. Interests on the Jordan-Syria Border
By setting limits on Iranian deployments in southern Syria, Washington could insulate Jordan from problems on the border and encourage Iranian caution in the east, potentially decreasing the likelihood there of a U.S.-Iran clash.
If the U.S.-Russia-Jordan ceasefire agreement announced July 7 for southwest Syria holds, it would be an important new development in the Syrian war. The area, which includes territory controlled by moderate rebels and the Assad regime, runs from Quneitra in the Golan southeast to Suwayda, including Deraa. In recent years, to ensure continued calm in rebel-controlled territory, Amman, with assistance from Washington, has periodically conducted air and ground operations against militants affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Nevertheless, Jordan is increasingly concerned that Assad-regime-aligned, Iran-backed Shia militias will move south. Both Israel and Jordan want to prevent Iran from establishing a foothold on the border.
MESOP NEWS REPORTS BY Berkay Mandıracı – Analyst, Turkey – For International Crisis Group (ICG) – Brussels
Turkey’s PKK Conflict Kills almost 3,000 in Two Years
20 July 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of a collapsed ceasefire that previously held for two-and-a-half-years between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Crisis Group’s new analysis of open-source data reveals that the ongoing cycle of violence has now killed three times as many as the 2011-12 escalation.
On 20 July 2015, an Islamic State (ISIS) suicide bomb attack killed 33 and injured more than 100 mostly pro-Kurdish young activists in the majority Kurdish town of Suruç in south-eastern Turkey. That same day in nearby Adıyaman province, an alleged attack by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) killed a Turkish corporal. This marked the breakdown of a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire between the PKK – listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU – and the Turkish state. It was also the start of a violent cycle that has taken at least 2,981 lives, about three times more than during the July 2011-December 2012 escalation, when Crisis Group confirmed almost 1,000 deaths.
MESOP NEWS BACKGROUNDER BY BEN CASPIT / AL MONITOR
20 July 2017 – Just over half a year after Donald Trump entered the White House, the first public dispute between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, i.e., Netanyahu, has surfaced. Israel opposes the cease-fire agreement in southern Syria, Netanyahu told reporters July 16, after a meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron. Netanyahu argued that the agreement, announced by the United States and Russia July 7 at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, perpetuates Iran’s presence in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly challenged US President Donald Trump in announcing his opposition to the cease-fire agreement for southern Syria brokered with Russia.
20 July 2017 – DEBKA FILES – Russian troops for Quneitra in defiance of Israel – Russians ready to move into Quneitra
Russian army units are preparing to move into the Syrian town of Quneitra in the coming days and take up positions opposite the Syrian-Israeli Golan border, debkafile reports exclusively from military sources. Their function is to police the second zone of southwestern Syria designated for ceasefire by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin when they met in Hamburg on July 7.
Quneitra is just 5km from Israel’s border and the line of IDF positions defending it.
Israel has notified Washington and Moscow that it is flatly opposed to the presence of a Russian unit on its border. However, the US and Russian officers coordinating the ceasefire’s implementation agreed to recommend going forward with the Russian deployment. The White House and the Kremlin gave the officers’ recommendation the green light, virtually imposing it on Israel against its will.
Iraqi Kurds Want America As Their Divorce Lawyer
By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian – FOREIGN POLICY – 2017-07-18 – Iraqi Kurds are mounting a campaign in Washington this week to rally U.S. government support for an independence bid before a referendum in September. But Baghdad opposes talk of secession, and with the United States committed to a one-Iraq policy, it’s going to be an uphill fight. Falah Mustafa Bakir, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy during a visit to Washington that the message he hoped to convey to his American counterparts was that “an independent Kurdistan is a solution and not a problem.”
EVENT RECAP 18 July 2017
The Middle East Policy Council convened its 89th Capitol Hill Conference on Friday, July 14th. Days after Iraqi forces announced regaining control of Mosul, “Post-ISIS Iraq and Syria: Avoiding Chaos” examined what comes next after the liberation of ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria. The panelists reflected on how to best understand the overlapping regional and international interests in the region, the continued fragmentation of populations beyond simplistic Shia-Sunni lines, and the tenuous hold of national governments on their territory. Amidst these complexities, the U.S. is faced with limited policy options, with some panelists questioning whether Washington can influence events to avoid chaos at all. A full video of the event can be accessed here.
NERVOUS – The tepid response to the deal by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu can be summed up in one word: Iran.
By David Makovsky – David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute. His publications include the Transition 2017 paper Toward a New Paradigm for Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (coauthored with Dennis Ross). – Politico July 14, 2017
Israel has done all it could over the last six years to stay out of the maelstrom next door in Syria, where Bashar Assad’s regime has struggled for six years to beat back a peaceful uprising that became a bloody civil war. So I was struck during a recent visit by how nervous so many senior Israeli officials were about what unfolding developments in eastern Syria mean for them in the months ahead — as well as how concerned they were about the enforcement of President Trump’s recent ceasefire deal in southern Syria with Russia and Jordan.
MUSINGS ON IRAQ BY Joel Wing – 13 July 2017
|The second day after Mosul was declared liberated there was still fightinggoing on inside the city. Gunfire could be heard, helicopters were attacking positions, and smoke was rising over the Old City district. The day before the U.S. led Coalition carried out three air strikes. The Iraqi forces (ISF) again claimed they were just mopping up IS elements, but it appeared to be a bit more than that. As the Islamic State has done since the start of the battle, they were firing and maneuvering. U.S. General Stephen Townsend admitted that there were pockets of IS men left in the city.
IS members were also being rounded up within the city. Several insurgents were arrested in the Makawi neighborhood in the Old City district, and others attempting to cross a bridge into east Mosul. 25 IS families also turned themselves into the intelligence service. Several women were arrested as a result after their names turned up on lists, and they were discovered to be members of IS’s Hisba morality police. Large numbers of militants will likely be detained for days. There have been reports for days that IS fighters were shaving their beards, changing their clothes, and attempting to melt into the population. The ISF are still trying to hunt them down in the east side, which was freed back in January.
Securing Mosul remains a problem. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi is discussing creating three military commands to hold Ninewa. That will include the army’s 15thand 16th Divisions, which have been doing security duties in the east, along with the Federal Police, local police, and tribal Hashd units that have been formed inside Mosul. There is also talkof integrating the tribal Hashd and Ninewa Guards into the local police. Finally, the Italian Defense Ministry has offeredto train the ISF in Mosul. The Italians have a history of working with the Iraqi forces since after the 2003 invasion, and are currently part of the Coalition training mission. The problem with Mosul is that there are a multiplicity of groups doing security and none of them cooperate with each other. That opens gaps that insurgents can exploit. This was a result of the government not having enough forces for both the fighting and holding. There was also a huge gap in police in Ninewa, because many of those lost back in 2014 when IS swept through the province were never replaced. Again, this was a shortcoming of the Iraqi government not fully preparing for the long term issues of the war. Hopefully these units can be brought together, a unified command formed, and Italy can be taken up on its offer to train them into a professional force.
Mosul remains one of the world’s largest graveyards. Civil Defense teams, which clear rubble and rescue people pulledover 2,000 bodies from the rubble in west Mosul. According to them there were 200 houses that were destroyed with residents inside them. Much of the western half of the city was damaged during the campaign. The Coalition and Iraqis used more air strikes and artillery to root out the insurgents from the densely packed western side. The government also told people to stay within the city because they could not take care of them if they left. The Islamic State also herded people with them to cover their retreats. All together this has led to a huge human toll.
Iraqi and Coalition air strikes remained an issue. The Independent talked with people from west Mosul who claimed that the bombings were disproportionate to the number of IS fighters targeted. One man said that there were not many IS members in his neighborhood, yet it got hit a lot. A volunteer medic said that in east Mosul there were fewer airstrikes and they were more accurate, while in the west there were more of them and used in a “haphazard” manner. The day before Amnesty International released a reportthat in part criticized the consequences of the air support. The U.S. led Coalition responded by saying Amnesty was being “irresponsible,” that combat can never be clean, and that more lives could have been lost if these assets were not used. As the Independent, Amnesty and others have pointed out there is definitely a debate over the cost and use of Coalition air power.
Lots of IS elements were left outside of Mosul and they have now come to life. First, IS still holds the town of Imam al-Gharbito the southeast in the Qayara district. The group held Sharia court hearings, and executed ten people. According to Al Mada, Imam al-Gharbi was only lightly protected by a small number of tribal Hashd who had not been paid for months. The town was also involved in smuggling to IS held areas of Shirqat in Salahaddin. IS arrived in small groups on July 5, and the locals thought they were just smugglers. Some IS elements stayed in the city, while others kidnapped several families and took them as human shields as they set off for Hawija in Kirkuk. Yesterday the ISF announced an operation to re-take Imam al-Gharbi, but it is not completed yet. In the Hamam al-Alil district to the south of Mosul the militants attackedfour towns, but were driven off. They were dressed in Hashd uniforms and driving Hashd vehicles to infiltrate the area. To the west the Hatradistrict was assaulted, a sheep marketin the south as well, and the Peshmerga turned back another attack in Rabiaalong the Syrian border. These operations have been going on for several weeks now. They show that IS is still very much alive in all sectors of the province. Imam al-Gharbi is the most serious threat as the insurgents have held the town for a week now despite a determined attempt by the government’s forces to dislodge them. They are also threatening the Qayara air and logistics base, which is nearby.
Al Sumaria reported that the IS elements in Tal Afar declared it a breakaway state from the caliphate. According to the outlet, foreigners have taken over the area from Iraqi members, and are attempting to set up their own power structure separate from IS central. The story appears to be part of a larger narrative that is currently playing out in the Iraqi press that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has died, and the group is fracturing as a result. There is no way to tell whether these reports are real, but the Islamic State could be splintering now that they are being defeated across the battlefield.
There was another story on vigilante justice in Ninewa. The Australian went to several towns in Hamam al-Alil district there IS families and suspects were being detained and killed. In Johaniya, 6 uniformed men drove up in an ambulance and seized the town’s muezzin who was not seen again. A few days later down the road from the village a pile of burned bodies was found dumped along the road. On another road a few days before three bodies were found. In Angul Hawar a tunnel was discovered with corpses being left inside. The police in Hamam al-Alil told the paper that kidnappings and killings of IS suspects and their families had been going up in the last two months. They reported 2-3 abductions per week, with more going unregistered. IS families were facing forced evictions as well. In June in Gayara flyers were put up demanding 67 families leave or be killed. In Salahiya all the IS wives had been forced out except one, and then their houses burned. The rule of law and authority of the government if largely absent in most of Ninewa. The desire for revenge against IS also runs deep amongst the locals. Together that means any local group, especially those with guns, is free to exact their own forms of justice and that is happening all over Iraq, not just Ninewa. Abductions, extra judicial killings, and group punishment are the results.
The Washington Post wrote about how IS propaganda was trying to deal with its defeat in Mosul. On social media the organization is trying to claim that the loss was just one in a larger war. It also claimed that Mosul was a defeat for all Muslims against the Shiites and the “Crusader Coalition.” As Charlie Winter pointed out, the Islamic State probably wrote off Mosul over a year ago. They never believed they could hold it, but the nine months it took to free it were used in its information operations to show that it was fighting the entire world, and that its ideology could survive.
The displacementcrisis continued in Ninewa. A new camp was opened in Bartella to the east of Mosul. 153 families were transferred there. From July 9-11, 2,900 arrived in east Mosul. Not all of those were returns. Many of them were just checking on their property to see what shape it was and then they would return to camps or lodgings they had in other provinces. Over 800,000 people remain displaced. A few thousand are going back each day, but it is still a trickle. Fears of IS sleeper cells and attacks is deterring more from making the trip.
Baghdad Post, “Merge of Tribal Mobilization, Nineveh Guards in gov’l police discussed,” 7/12/17
– “Over 2,000 bodies exhumed from under Mosul’s rubble,” 7/12/17
Bas News, “Pictures: Peshmerga Kills 17 IS Militants Northwest Mosul,” 7/12/17
Cockburn, Patrick, “Mosul families complain overuse of airstrikes killed thousands as they count their dead in wake of Isis defeat,” Independent, 7/11/17
Elmanzalawy, Elwy, “17 IS militants killed as Iraqi joint force foils 4th attack near Mosul,” Iraqi News, 7/12/17
Erickson, Amanda, “What the Islamic State is saying about its loss of Mosul,” Washington Post, 7/12/17
George, Susannah, “US-led coalition: Amnesty report on Mosul ‘irresponsible,’” Associated Press, 7/12/17
Al Ghad Press, “Reacting to two attacks with more than 30 vehicles west of Mosul,” 7/12/17
Iraq Newspaper, “Iraqi Newspaper Reporter in Mosul: Terrorists Launched An Attack On A Sheep Market In The Al-Jurn Village,” 7/12/17
Khabaar, “Reuters: Iraqi forces clashed again with Daash in the old city of Mosul two days after the victory announcement,” 7/12/17
Loyd, Anthony, “Mosul: ‘I would kill every last one of the ISIS families,’” The Australian, 7/12/17
Al Mada, “Daash exploited the liberation of Mosul and occupied a village south Qayara a week ago,” 7/13/17
Al Masalah, “Security forces continue to clean up the old city in Mosul,” 7/12/17
Mercy Corps, “Humanitarian Crisis Escalates as Fighting in Mosul Subsides,” 7/12/17
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Parliament panel to impeach federal police commander over Mosul losses,” Iraqi News, 7/12/17
New Sabah, “Three military units will hold Nineveh after its liberation from Daash,” 7/12/17
Reuters, “Iraq strikes Islamic State in Mosul days after declaring victory,” 7/12/17
Shafaaq News, “Clashes in Mosul two days after liberation,” 7/12/17
– “Daash attacking sheep market in Mosul,” 7/12/17
– “URGENT A new attack by Daash disguised in the uniforms and vehicles of the popular crowd,” 7/12/17
– “URGENT Daash launches three attacks and detains families near Mosul,” 7/12/17
Al Sumaria, “Daash executes 10 civilians on charge of fleeing the state south of Mosul,” 7/12/17
– “Local source: Tal Afar is calling for an independent state,” 7/12/17
Al Taghier TV, “The Italian Ministry of Defense declares its readiness to assume the task of maintaining stability in Mosul,” 7/12/17
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “Iraq Situation: UNHCR Flash Update – 12 July 2017” 7/12/17
Yar, Cengiz, Hussain, Mutaza, “The Cost Of Liberation, Documenting Life Amid the Battle for Mosul,” The Intercept, 7/11/17