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The takeover of Mosul: what's going on?
   
 
 
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The takeover of Mosul: what's going on?

 
Monday, 16 June 2014 07:57
 
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Epos converses with Idrees Mohammed

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations

 

Jihadist militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) – al-Sham can mean the Levant, Syria or even Damascus, but in the context of the global jihad it refers to the Levant – have taken control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. Last week they launched an assault on the northern city, and then moved southwards, first attacking the town of Baiji and then reportedly overrunning Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, the administrative capital of Salahaddin province. Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has pressed the Parliament in Baghdad to declare a 30-days state of emergency, that would give security forces the "necessary powers" to regain control.

The situation is delicate, and the questions and issues on field are various. EPOS has interviewed Idrees Mohammed, expert in International Relations and Kurdish affairs. His MA thesis was on Turkey's policy towards Kurdistan Region. He is now focusing on Turkey's policy towards Kurds, including Syria's Kurdish. He teaches International Relations in University of Duhok’s department of Political Science. In this exclusive interview for EPOS, Idrees Mohammed talks about what is happening in Mosul, focusing on the Kurdish approach and the response of Erbil, the capital of KRG, to the crisis, and investigating on the role and the reactions of Iraq's neighbouring countries on the takeover of Mosul by ISIS. Idrees Mohammed tweets @IdreesMohammd.

Nicolamaria Coppola: Dear Idrees, first of all thank you very much for accepting this interview.

Could you please briefly explain what is happenning in Mosul?

Idrees Mohammed: ISIS militias targeted Mosul. Iraqi army withdraw without confrontation. Security vacuum was created. The state's institutions were collapsed. The city was fallen to militias' control. They established their rule over it. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flew to Kurdistan Region. Sunnis and Shiia have accused each other for the quagmire. The Kurds have chosen to be on the defensive. The nieghboring countries have felt threatened. The United States and Europeans have showed sympathy towards Baghdad.

NC: After Falluja, why ISIS has taken control of Mosul precisely? Why is Mosul so important?

IM: Mosul is very important given its geographic location and demographic structure among other things. It would only need simple efforts from militias to reach the city, mobilize supporters and control it. The quagmire is meant to send messages throughout the world that political monopolization and marginalization by and of certain segments in multi-ethnic communities could have serious repercussions.

NC: How has the central government responded? Do you think that Baghdad should have acted in a different way?

IM: The response of the federal government has raised eyebrews to many. Some suspected about Baghdad's true intentions and plans. It should have been a battel in Mosul between two forces different in numbers, training, equipments...etc. The army's withdrawal and defeat was unexpected. There were claims of Baghdad's apparently intentional poor coordination with Mosul's public units. The dominant belief, though not similarly shared by Shiia, is that Baghdad could  have done better to deal with the situation.

NC: Baghdad is on one side and Erbil is on the other. There are many unresolved questions and issues between the central government and the regional one. Do you think that Mosul could be considered the proving ground of the power and the political influence of one government over the other?

IM: Shiia controls politics in Baghdad. Kurds control it in Erbil. Sunnis control politics nowhere. Kurds and Sunnis have issues with Baghdad. Sunnis and Kurds complain of policies pursued by Shiia-led government in Baghdad. An enemy of my enemy can be my friend. Sunnis and Kurds have involved in a marriage of convenience. They may divorce anytime. It is not primarily between Erbil and Baghdad. It is rather between Sunni and Shiia.

NC: Mosul is not far away from the KRG: the city is only 80 km far from Erbil and less than 40 from Duhok. How have Kurdish people reacted to the takeover of the city by the ISIS?

IM: Deterioration of security situation in cities of geographic proximity to Kurdish regions poses a real security threat to KRG. The takeover of Mosul has dominated news reports in the region and people are observing the developments closely. The population appears firmly believing in Kurdish political leadership and peshmarga to protect them. They do not feel really worried about spillover effects. Life goes normally in Kurdistan.

NC: How have the Kurdish forces and the political institutions of KRG responded to the crisis in Mosul? How do Barzani's cabinet and the regional Parliament intend to act?

IM: The Kurds see the current crisis through two opposing lenses. It is a serious threat that must be contained. The crisis takes place at KRG doors and could drag in the Kurds. It is also an opportunity that must be seized. The crisis is at territories KRG has agressively struggled to incorporate. The Kurdish strategy is defensive. They avoid engagement with ISIS militias and make advancement in territories disputed with Baghdad. It is unclear whether Kurds intent on incorporating the disputed territories into KRG or making their control de facto for bargaining purposes.

NC: What is the role of Turkey and the other neighbouring countries in the crisis in Mosul? How have they responded to the takeover of the city by the Islamists?

IM: Turkey is highly concerned about a civil war in Iraq. It is against an ISIS de facto situation in Iraq. It is hurt by the hand it reportedly fed to fight in Syria. Ankara warns against military operations, though it sent fighter jets to fly over Mosul in coordination with Baghdad, and pursues diplomacy with regards to the situation. Iran supports Baghdad and its forces have reportedly entered Kurdistan Region.

NC: Apart al-Qaeda, do you think that anyone else is behind ISIS? Is there any foreign political and or geo-strategical project in the takeover of Mosul?

IM: Powerful countries have opposing interests in Iraq. Foreign interference in Iraqi affairs is high. Iran supports Shiia; Gulf countries support Sunnis; and Turkey supports Kurds. It is expected the current quagmire is a proxy war primarily conducted by Iraqi Shiia and Sunni. Sectarianism has dominated politics in the Middle East. Regional Sunni and Shiia axes have emerged. Syrian quagmire has ramifications on developments in Iraq. The Sunni axis has pushed for regime change in Syria; the Shiia axis has strived to save Damascus.

NC: What do you think will be the next moves of ISIS in the "conquest" of Iraq, the Levant and the Middle East?

IM: ISIS has declared its laws in Mosul and continues making territorial advancements. It would not be easy for it to confront powerful international coalitions in the wider Middle East if such coalitions were established.

NC: How do you forsee the future of Mosul? In which way do you think the crisis will be solved?

IM: Alarm bells rang worldwide by the possibility of a bloody civil war in Iraq. Some speculated a "Syrianization" of Iraq. However, Iraq is not Syria. A main part of the current crisis lies with political monopolization and marginalization in Iraq. Sunni foreign backers cannot stay idle. Iraq's quagmire should mean a change. The United States should review its attitude towards Iraqi communities.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 18 August 2014 15:06
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