Saudi Journalists: The Mosul Campaign Is an Iranian Offensive Against Sunni Arabs

MESOP BACKGROUNDER : November 1, 2016 MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6660

In recent days, a joint force comprising Iraqi government troops, Kurdish Peshmerga forces and elements of the international anti-terror coalition has been waging a massive campaign to push the Islamic State (ISIS) out of the Iraqi city of Mosul. Alongside praise for this offensive and for its stated goal of expelling ISIS from the city, there has also been concern among Iraqi and Saudi Sunnis regarding the implications of the offensive for the residents of Mosul, most of whom are Sunnis, and regarding the true intentions of some of the elements involved in the campaign. These concerns were expressed in many articles recently published in the Saudi press, which claimed inter alia that the Mosul offensive is merely a cover for an Iranian plan to expel Sunnis from the Mosul area and change its demographic makeup in order to strengthen Iran’s influence there.

The articles also claimed that Mosul is likely to suffer the same fate as other Sunni cities controlled by ISIS that were taken over by Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi, a union of popular Iraqi militias sponsored by the Iraqi and Iranian governments. These militias, which according to some reports are indeed involved in the Mosul offensive,[1] have been known to take revenge upon the Sunni residents of cities it liberated from ISIS.  Some of the articles also compared Mosul to the Syrian city of Aleppo, the main stronghold of the Syrian opposition that is currently under heavy attack by the Syrian regime and its allies, Russia and Iran. The articles stated that both cases involve an attack on Sunni residents by anti-Sunni forces bent on expelling these Sunnis from their homes. Another claim was that the U.S. and the West were, knowingly or unknowingly, cooperating with this Iranian plan. As evidence of their position, the writers cited statements by former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who said at an “Islamic Awakening” conference in Baghdad this week  that the Mosul offensive, dubbed Operation “We Are Coming, Nineveh,” also conveys “we are coming, Raqqa,” “we are coming, Aleppo” and “we are coming, Yemen.”[2]

The following are excerpts from the articles in the Saudi press:

‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: The Campaigns In Mosul and Aleppo Are Further Battles In A Long-Standing Sunni-Shi’ite Conflict

‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the former editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and former director-general of Al-Arabiya TV, wrote that the offensives in Mosul and Aleppo were both directed against a Sunni population, and that in both cases, victory by the attackers would only be temporary and would not resolve the larger crisis: “…Will the battles in Mosul and Aleppo end the war against ISIS in Iraq or the civil war in Syria? I don’t believe so. In both countries, the problems stem from [the regime:] the character of the regime in Syria and the actions of the one in Iraq, [and from] the exclusion and marginalization of [the Sunnis]… In Iraq, Arab Sunnis comprise 20% of the population, and along with non-Arab Sunni groups they comprise 40% of Iraq’s population. How can ten million citizens be eliminated or excluded? In Syria, Sunnis comprise 80% of the population, namely over 20 million people. Even if five or ten million of them flee [the country], the remaining [Sunnis] will still constitute an overwhelming majority.

“Iraq’s parliamentary regime is inclined towards a sectarian [form of] government, and this will lead, following the liberation of Mosul, to a minimizing of Iraq, making it a smaller and less stable country. As for Syria, after Aleppo is purged of most of its residents – not just of the combatants in it – the fighting will move to another city, and the battles will continue, since there is no political solution. This is due to Iran’s insistence on cleaving to the man who is responsible for all this bloodshed [Bashar Al-Assad], just as it has cleaved to Hizbullah, which indirectly governs Lebanon and has caused instability there for 20 years…

“Let the Syrians and Iraqis prepare to celebrate the ‘liberation’ of Mosul and Aleppo. We know the celebrations will be short-lived, and after they [end] the battles and the [dubious] alliances will continue, as will the persecution of the angry residents. The global terrorists [will continue] to benefit from this fertile ground [for their activity], and the tension in the region will persist.

“At present Mosul is surrounded by a large international force, with generals eager to appear on the television stations of their countries and politicians falling over each other to take credit for the almost-certain victory. The global media, which, like the politicians, know the outcome [of the battle] in advance, take no interest in what will happen afterwards. The battles in Mosul and Aleppo are two more campaigns in a long-standing conflict that cannot be resolved without a just political plan.”[3]

Al-Yawm Daily: The West Must Stop Iran From Entering Mosul In Order To Change The Demographic Makeup Of The Area

An editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Yawm directed harsh criticism at the U.S. and the West which, it said, are wooing Iran and trying to appease it even though it is  harming their  interests and undermining regional security. The article called on the U.S. to end this “masochistic” relationship and overcome this enchantment with Iran, and to keep this country from entering Mosul in order to change the demographic makeup of the area. The editorial said: “It seems like the current rationale of the international community recognizes only those who attribute no importance to international agreements and treaties, those who sign [agreements] with one hand and erase their signature with the other. This is what the masochistic relationship between the U.S. and Iran implies. The U.S. took Iran to its bosom and called on the entire West to do the same, to lift the siege from it and welcome it back to the fold of the international [community] like a pampered child. Moreover, the U.S. remained silent over everything [Iran] has done to undermine regional security by the dirtiest sectarian means possible, and eliminated all the black files it kept [on Iran], as though seeking to purge it of its sins and embrace it as a trustworthy ally…

“Today we face the most complicated issue: Mosul. Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi, sponsored by Iran, has positioned itself at the spearhead of the forces seeking to expel ISIS [from the city]. But what [future] do they envision for Mosul after it is purged of the ISIS militias, especially considering the dark record of this sectarian Hashd [and what it has done] in some Iraqi towns in the Saladin province? Will the West continue to remain silent over Iran’s foolish actions and its hectic efforts to change the demographic makeup of the region, aimed at ensuring the loyalty of further cantons so it can use them as an excuse for intervention? Or will it reread the history of the conflict between the Arabs and the Persians, realize what [Iran] is planning [to do] in the guise of the war on ISIS, and work to remove any doubt by preventing the Iranians, with their Safavid hatred, from entering Mosul and adding fuel to the sectarian fire that is [already] raging due to the policy of the regime of the Rule of the Jurisprudent  and its sectarian forces?

“I think that the world – which welcomed Iran [even though Iran] fires rockets at its vessels[4] while [the world] embraces it to its bosom – should notice that it is embracing a cunning snake, which Saudi Arabia [learned to] avoid only after drinking of its deadly poison. Will those who see [Iran] only as [a source of] gas, oil, carpets and pistachios realize this?”[5]

‘Abd Al-Aziz Al-Tuwaijiri: The Real Sunni–Shi’ite War For Control Of Mosul Will Begin After Its Liberation From ISIS

In an article in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, Saudi academic ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Tuwaijiri wrote in a similar vein that the real goal of the Mosul offensive is not to defeat ISIS but to realize Iran’s plan to change Iraq’s demographics. He added that the U.S. is coordinating its actions in Mosul with Iran. He wrote: “Is this really a campaign to liberate Mosul, or is it a determined effort to subordinate this Sunni-majority city to Iran’s sectarian plan, as happened in the past with other cities and areas taken over from ISIS? Is Mosul doomed to end up like Aleppo – an Arab Sunni city in ruins?

“Several elements are battling each other for the exclusive control of Mosul. One of them is the Iraqi army, which has a Shi’ite majority; another is Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi, which obeys Iran’s directives and serves its interests, like Hizbullah in Lebanon. It has already been proven that, after Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi enters a city or village controlled by ISIS, it sows destruction, ruin and death. It has committed crimes against humanity against Sunni Iraqis, ‘in revenge for the death of Hussein,’[6] as [its members] declared in hysterical tones. This happened in Fallujah, Tikrit, Ramadi and elsewhere, and it is certain to happen in Mosul and throughout the Nineveh governorate if ISIS hands it over to them…

“The U.S., which occupied Iraq in 2003, withdrew from this wretched Arab country in a disgraceful manner only after making sure that Iran would take its place there. Today, in the battle for Mosul, [the U.S.] coordinates with Iran, not with the government in Baghdad. It is immaterial whether this is done as part of bilateral [U.S.-Iran] relations or as part of the U.S.-led international anti-terror coalition, for ultimately it is the U.S. that has the interests and holds ties with Tehran and Baghdad. This means that Iraq’s sovereignty has been usurped and the Iraqi government has no control [over what is happening].

“In light of this, we can understand why the Baghdad government is insisting, so surprisingly, on the withdrawal of the Turkish army form Iraq, especially after the establishment of Al-Hashd Al-Watani, headed by the former governor of Mosul, which comprises Sunni [troops] and is known today as the Nineveh Guards. Iran regards this Sunni [force], which was trained by the Turkish army, as a threat to its interests in Mosul and the Nineveh governorate, because if it takes part in the campaign to liberate the city, under Turkey’s indirect command, it will protect the residents of Mosul, most of whom are Sunnis, from the aggression of the Shi’ite Al-Hashd [Al-Sha’bi] and thwart Iran’s imperialistic ambitions…

“If Turkey has declared that it means to stay in the [Mosul] area in order to defend the Sunnis and secure its interests after the withdrawal of ISIS from the city, that is it’s own business, because the battle that is waiting for everyone is the one that will begin immediately after this battle [for Mosul ends]. Who will rule the Nineveh governorate? Will Mosul and the surrounding villages return to [the control of] Iraq’s national government, assuming that such a thing even exists? Will [Nineveh] become a direct continuation of Iranian [territory], thereby changing the map, so that the world faces a fait accompli? What will be the position of the U.S.? Will capitulating to the developments and continuing the coordination with Iran [really] serve its interests?…”[7]

Turki Al-Dakhil: There Is A Plan To Export Mosul Crisis To Gulf Countries            

Turki Al-Dakhil, a senior Saudi journalist and former director-general of Al-Arabiya TV, called on the world to unite its ranks against ISIS, while also warning that the war on ISIS conceals hidden agendas, namely an intention to harm the Sunnis in the city as well as the Gulf states. He wrote: “…The entire world must unite to defeat ISIS. Perhaps this campaign will manage to exhaust this extremist organization, especially if [the fighting forces] manage to transcend [the attempts] to transform the war into a sectarian one or to change the demographics of the city, which in effect has already happened. But when we mention expelling Sunnis [from Mosul], it takes us back to the reason why [former Iraqi prime minister] Nouri Al-Maliki facilitated ISIS’s entry into Mosul [in the first place]. These are not just emotional declarations [on my part]. Amnesty [International] has declared that the Sunnis in Mosul are facing [the danger of] cruel vengeance at the hands of sectarian militias… Nouri Al-Maliki said explicitly that the Shi’ite militias will fight not only in Mosul or Aleppo but will reach Yemen. There is an intention to export the Mosul crisis to the [entire] region, especially to countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in order to derive as much benefit as possible from the Mosul [affair].

“The Mosul campaign is crucial in defeating ISIS. Mutually hostile countries are taking part in the fighting. The important point is for the city of Mosul to triumph, not some sectarian or ethnic group. At the same time, we must fight any [attempt] to change the demographic makeup of any city, no matter which sect or religion is dominant there. The campaign might be prolonged, but will it achieve all its objectives? Achieving them on the ground may be difficult, and may take longer than expected.  Mosul will [eventually] be liberated, but it will no longer be the Mosul of which we have read and which we know.”[8]


[1]  Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 29, 2016.

[2], October 22, 2016.

[3]  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 24, 2016.

[4] In the past year there have been several tense encounters between U.S. and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps vessels in the Persian Gulf. See e.g.,, August 31, 2016.

[5]  Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), October 21, 2016.

[6] Hussein, the son of the fourth Caliph ‘Ali, was killed in the battle of Karbala in 680.

[7]  Al-Hayat (London), October 24, 2016.

[8]  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 25, 2016.