The military plan A is working well, for now. But if it encounters problems, the myriad of actors involved could start to pull in different directions, to the detriment of Mosul’s future.
The battle of Mosul is Iraq’s most complicated military campaign against ISIS to date. Not just because of the one million civilians trapped inside the city, or because it will be ISIS’ last stand in Iraq, but also due to the sheer diversity of forces that are involved in the effort. This will make the post-ISIS stabilisation and political process an even more challenging undertaking. As a result, European member states party to the Global Coalition countering ISIS - some of whom are directly involved in the fight for Mosul and the humanitarian response - should be particularly attentive to how this military campaign unfolds.
Alongside the Iraqi federal troops leading the campaign, there are Kurdish Peshmerga, Shia and Sunni paramilitaries, special forces from the US and UK, advisors from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and Turkish troops. Added to this constellation, there are also Kurdish PKK guerrillas who are present in both Kirkuk and Ninewa provinces. Baghdad has refused direct military air support from Moscow, Abu Dhabi and Amman because juggling the various actors and interests is simply too complicated for a weak state to handle. Even minority communities in Iraq, such as the Christians, Ezidis and Shabak have military units that are split between the central government in Baghdad and the regional government in Erbil.
For now, all these guns are pointing in the same direction, but after ISIS suffers an inevitable military defeat, the guns could start pointing in all sorts of directions. And contrary to much of the prevailing commentary, the fallout will not be contained to Shias against Sunnis or Arabs against Kurds, but rather all against all. It will be intra-ethnic and intra-sectarian tensions that will largely determine the prospects for post-ISIS stability in Iraq.