US-backed Iraqi forces have cleared ISIS fighters from a key village overlooking Mosul’s airport. Iraqi federal police and the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Deployment Force “seized complete control” of the village of Albu Saif, Gen. Abdal Amir Yar Allah, general commander of the Mosul operation said.
Now, Iraqi forces control the area around the airport. As they get more familiar with ISIL tactics, the progress to the airport will take place any moment. There is little doubt that the airport will soon be under the control of Baghdad.
While moving into western Mosul is a very complex mission, there are signs of serious cracks within ISIL ranks inside the old city. On Friday’s prayer February 17, in camp Ghuzlani in west Mosul, tens of armed ISIL fighters started talking loudly about the orders they received to move non-Iraqi fighters to the back lines of defense.
The reason was believed to be one of trust. ISIL leaders trust more those who moved from far away countries to fight with the organization. They believe they are more committed than locals. Moreover, several ISIL members were executed when they were caught trying to escape the fight. Keeping the most loyal and tough fighters to defend the inner circle of the group in Mosul was met by protests from Iraqi members. Most of the Ghuzlani fighters are Iraqis from Mosul.
While the Ghuzlani fighters were threatening to throw their arms, ISIL leaders sent trucks carrying loudspeakers to call the population to join the fight and volunteer to go to the forward defensive positions. The appeal reminded that the population that they vowed allegiance to the Caliph, and they have to fear God and respect their oath. Few weeks ago, after a similar campaign, some civilians of western Mosul volunteered to go. But when it was time to show up, just a handful went to the recruiting centers.
This created a difficult situation for ISIL in certain quarters of western Mosul. The organization’s commanders were counting on volunteers to fill up some gaps. The reluctance of Mosulians to join led to demoralization among ISIL fighters. In normal conditions, ISIL would have executed few of those who refused to go. But as they do not know what tomorrow will bring, they had to forget their usual brutality for today and settle with trucks carrying the loudspeakers.
The mutiny at Ghuzlani may be connected to the sketchy reports indicating that tens of ISIL checking points and armed positions in some quarters of west Mosul were suddenly abandoned by the organization’s fighters.
In the unique case of ISIL’s “army”, it is logical that in moments of severe pressure and retreat, only the hardcore of ideologues remain loyal. Demoralization is self-generating sentiment. It is expected that the closer Iraqi forces advance into west Mosul, the deeper the cracks occurring within the group, and the more fighters abandon their posts and mix with the civilians.
In all cases, human rights organizations should keep a close eye on Mosul in the coming few months to report any violations or unlawful acts against the city’s civilians. Mosul civilians, in their part, should report to security forces those who joined the organization at any moment in the past. Justice is sufficient to punish those who were cowardly enough to execute helpless hostages and prisoners.
Meanwhile, Baghdad continued to ravel in its usual political squabbling. Recent reports, leaked by Iranian intelligence to Lebanese Shia press, indicate that Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi has made a secret deal with Muqtada Al Sadr to trim the influence and role of former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, who is openly supported by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s General Qassim Solimanie.
The leak, printed in a Hezbollah daily, claimed that the two, Abadi and Al Sadr, agreed to behave publicly as if they are in disaccord, while they secretly coordinate their moves, Maliki is the “Iranian boy in Baghdad”, as the Iraqis call him. The motive behind the leak is not clear yet.
The newspaper wanted to leave the impression that despite the clash between security forces and Sadr supporters on February 11, which led to killing seven protestors, the true state of affairs in the relations between Abadi and Maliki is different after their cordial secret deal. It even attributed to Abadi a statement in which he allegedly tells Sadr “I could do nothing. I do not control all security branches”.
But the real truth may be different. By sending his supporters to demonstrate inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, Al Sadr looks to be challenging Abadi. Al Sadr is demanding an electoral reform to “free the country from the existing corrupt political forces and their representatives in the Parliament”. It is difficult to expect that this Parliament, which is itself a product of the existing electoral legislations and political parties, may one day change this legislation voluntarily. Therefore, Sadr decided to move the conflict to the street.
But it is the toughest of all political games to balance a situation between two political poles when you do not have sufficient power base yourself. This delicate position places the Prime Minister in a tough spot. He has to move towards the camp of his arch enemy, Nouri Al Maliki, in order to find support to confront Sadr. If he did not, Maliki supporters will go after him like wild dogs accusing him of compromising the “prestige” of the state and the safety of the Green Zone. Maliki then can move to kill Abadi politically under the claim that he is a weak Prime Minister. And he has to keep in the good side of Sadr to counter Maliki’s plans to topple him and take his place.
In a way, Abadi is squeezed between the two camps, that of Iraqi Shias represented by Sadr, and that of Iranian Revolutionary Guard, represented by Maliki.
Abadi had to meet with leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are deeply influenced, to say the least, by the Revolutionary Guard. The Prime Minister told the commanders of the Forces that he will defend their rights as long as he is in his post. They responded by saying that he can count on them to defend him in the face of any attempt to spread disorder, hinting at Sadr demonstrations in Baghdad. Abadi seems to be playing a risky game: On the one hand keeping his lines opened with Sadr, and on the other hand trying to garner the support of the Popular Mobilization Forces. All this because Abadi wants to be re-elected by the Parliament for another term.
The fall of Mosul will not change the political fight in Baghdad in any substantial way. It will only be heavily used for self-promotion by almost all political forces, particularly the Maliki camp.