Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq, located in northern Iraq with a mixed Sunni Arab and Kurdish population of ca. 2 million. It has been under the control of the Islamic State since the Iraqi Army collapsed in 2014. Now the new American-supported Iraqi Army, largely made up of Shia Iraqis from the south, together with a motley krew of Iranian trained Shia militias, Kurdish Pesh Merga from the Autonomous Kurdish Region in the north of Iraq, PKK Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Sunni Arab former Iraqi Army soldiers from Saddam Hussein’s time, are all gearing up to take Mosul back from IS. It won’t be an easy fight, the IS are known for their fanatical resistance, but the over-whelming odds are against them, especially with US air support for the ground invasion.
Given the almost certain ultimate defeat of IS, the big question is, what happens next? That is the really difficult and complex question. This analysis is based on an excellent article by Jonathan Spyer, Head of the Rubin Center of the Inter-Disciplinary Center at Herzliya, which appeared in the Jerusalem Report and the Gloria Center (see https://jonathanspyer.com/2016/09/25/beyond-mosul/). In this Spyer attempts to dissect out the threads of the various interest groups and how they will fare both in the fighting for Mosul and particularly in its aftermath. Will the US-backed Iraqi Army win, will the Kurds take more territory and keep it, will the Sunnis try to reassert their former dominance, or will the Iranian-backed Shia militias come out on top?
If the Iraqi Army does well with US support, then the Shia-dominated Government of Pres. Masum will regain dominance, with further US and Western support. If the Pesh Merga do well then the Kurds will expand their area of control against the wishes of the central Iraqi Government, possibly leading to the break-up of Iraq itself. If the PKK do well the Turks and the Pesh Merga will be discomfited. If the Shia militias do well then the Iranians will expand their influence. So after IS is defeated and the dust settles there may well be a civil war in northern Iraq, that could involve all of the anti-IS combatants, namely the Iraqi Army, the Shia militias, the Sunnis, and the Kurds in various combinations And you thought the civil war in Syria was a mess.