Tag Archives: Inquiry

No faith in Mosul inquiry

No faith in Mosul inquiry

An inquiry into the fall of Mosul to Islamic State forces has finally been concluded, but it is unlikely to satisfy the Iraqi public, writes Salah Nasrawi

A long-awaited parliamentary commission report about the fall of Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul to the Islamic State (IS) terror group has been finalised in Iraq amid controversy over its findings and the competence and independence of the panel.

An ad hoc parliamentary commission to investigate the fall of Mosul said on Sunday it had sent its final report to the parliament for endorsement. But efforts to muster enough support in parliament to approve the report have become entangled in a row over its outcome.

A ferocious battle immediately started over the commission’s main recommendation to refer former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki to face trial over the fall of Mosul. The move came a week after the present Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, launched a sweeping reform campaign which led to the abolishment of Al-Maliki’s post as vice-president.

On Monday, Speaker of the Parliament Salim Al-Jibouri scrapped a debate on the report by lawmakers after noisy protests by Al-Maliki’s supporters and asked members to vote on sending the findings to the judiciary to decide if legal action was needed.

The move is likely to open the door to a prolonged legal battle over the political nature of the case and the jurisdiction of the criminal courts to try officials accused of crimes related to military or national security matters.

Many Iraqis believe their judiciary is far from being truly independent. In the past, the judiciary has come under fire for being influenced by Al-Maliki himself, and last week Iraq’s top Shia Muslim cleric grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani called for reforms to the judiciary.

The row started immediately after the head of the commission, Hakim Al-Zamili, said the report had been endorsed by a majority of the panel’s members. Al-Maliki dismissed the findings as “worthless” and his supporters challenged the assertion as politically motivated.

Al-Zamili did not disclose details about the findings, but media reports quoting the report have said that some 35 military and government officials have been indicted by the panel for their role in the fall of Mosul.

The capture of Mosul shocked Iraqis who have sought to learn the truth about the seizure of the city and demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

In addition to Al-Maliki, who also served as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces at the time, the panel named acting Defence Minister Sadoun Al-Duliami, Deputy Minister of Interior Adnan Al-Assadi and governor of Nineveh Atheel Al-Nujaifi.

The list also includes chief of staff Babakr Zebari and two of his deputies. Other top brass named are the head of Al-Maliki’s military office Farouk Al-Aaraji and several army and police commanders. Several provincial government officials were also implicated.

Al-Maliki had refused to be quizzed by the commission and instead sent written testimony. Sunni Iraqi Vice-President Osama Al-Nuajaifi and Kurdistan regional President Masoud Barzani also sent written answers, but the two were cleared by the findings.

In June last year IS jihadists seized control of Mosul, routing the Iraqi army in the city of more than one million people. Later they advanced to consolidate their hold over dozens of cities and towns in western and northern Iraq and formally declared the establishment of an Islamic “caliphate” with Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as caliph, or its head.

The advances and the declaration of the “Islamic State” sent shockwaves around the world and pushed the United States to form an international coalition to fight the group, which has also extended its control to vast areas in neighbouring Syria.

For many Iraqis and foreign observers, the reasons behind the fall of Mosul have remained dubious, especially since a large contingent of army and police force was policing the city and its surroundings before the IS onslaught.

The investigation started in December after months of wrangling about its jurisdiction and the competence of its members. The panel was originally composed of a few members of the parliament’s defence and security committee but was later expanded to include some 26 lawmakers to reflect political, ethnic and sectarian diversity.

Al-Zamili said the commission had relied on testimonies, evidence, witnesses and documents related to the fall of Mosul to reach its conclusions. At his Sunday press conference Al-Zamili referred to an unspecified foreign role in the capture of Mosul, and in a television interview later he indicated that the Turkish consulate in Mosul had been involved.

Information emerging shortly after the fall of Mosul and details given to the media by some officers, including some of those who were named by the panel, indicated enormous corruption, incompetence, recklessness, negligence and dereliction of duty by top commanders and politicians.

The events ran from 10 June last year, when dozens of IS militants overpowered a tens-of-thousands strong garrison in Mosul, a sprawling city of mostly Sunni Arabs mixed with small ethnic minorities of Kurds, Turkmen and Christians.

According to various accounts, IS militants had taken over many neighbourhoods in the city days beforehand, exploiting the lack of resistance by the security forces and in some cases in collaboration with the local police.

In the hours before the militants took overall control of the city, tens of thousands of army and police personnel vanished from their camps and posts, leaving behind huge quantities of weapons, vehicles and equipment.

The commanders who had fled their posts and abandoned their soldiers exchanged blame about the state of disarray which they had left behind, forcing units to retreat or surrender.

The commission findings showed that “responsibility for the fall of Mosul to the criminal gangs of IS lies in the political and security leadership,” the report said, using the Arabic acronym of the terror group.

It said that “the commander of the Armed Forces and former prime minister [Al-Maliki] did not have a clear idea about the security situation in Nineveh because he was relying in his assessment on misleading information sent by military and security commanders without double-checking it.”

Among the wrongdoings attributed to Al-Maliki is his “appointment of incompetent and corrupt commanders” without “subjecting them to vetting and accountability.”

The report highlighted Al-Maliki’s failure “to build the army and provide it with appropriate weaponry and training.” It said he had promoted loyal officers without consideration for the army’s command system and power structure.

One of the serious accusations against Al-Maliki made by the report is that he failed to deal with the aftermath of the fall of Mosul, costing Iraq more territory.

The Nineveh governor is also charged with “creating an atmosphere hostile to the security forces in the province,” a reference to his repeated claims that the largely Shia-dominated security forces were mistreating the local population.

Several military commanders, including the Iraqi chief of staff and other senior officers, were blamed for negligence and corruption and held responsible for the capture of the city.

While some Iraqis welcomed the report as a positive step towards revealing the truth about what happened in Mosul, many fear the exercise needed to be more open and transparent. Others have warned of a whitewash, citing the secrecy of the deliberations and the dilution of the findings.

Now all Iraqis’ eyes are on Al-Abadi, many people waiting with bated breath to see how he will react to the deadlock over the Mosul findings as he continues his drive to bring change to the government, including getting rid of Al-Maliki’s legacy.

Hours before the disclosure of the report Al-Abadi approved a decision by an investigative council to refer military commanders to a court martial for abandoning their positions in the battle against IS militants in Ramadi in May.

There are increasing fears that Al-Maliki, who leads a parliamentary bloc of some 80 lawmakers and enjoys the support of his Dawa Party and some Iran-backed militias, will try to tip the panel’s recommendations away from what they are supposed to be.

Many members of his State of Law bloc have threatened to boycott the parliament if Al-Maliki is put on trial.

“Why should Al-Maliki be held responsible,” asked Amir Al-Khuzaei, one of his key supporters, during an interview.

“The Prophet Mohamed wasn’t responsible for [the defeat] at the Battle of Uhud. The archers were,” he told the Iranian-owned Al-Itijah television channel.

He was referring to the 7th-century battle that the Prophet Mohamed lost to infidels in Mecca.

This article appeared first in Al-Ahram Weekly on August 20, 2015

Mosul’s blame game

Mosul’s blame game

An inquiry into the fall of Mosul shows total chaos and sectarianism in Iraq’s military, writes Salah Nasrawi

For three consecutive nights last week the former commander of the Iraqi security forces in Mosul appeared on a late night television show to try to clear his name after accusations that he was responsible for the fall of the strategic city to the Islamic State (IS) terror group in June.

While trying to put the blame for the stunning defeat of his troops squarely on other top officers, Lieut. Gen. Mahdi Al-Gharawi revealed that deep sectarianism and infighting within the ranks and file of the Iraqi army could be the main reason behind the disaster.

A parliamentary committee formed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the city’s fall and the subsequent rise of IS has meanwhile gone into trouble after accusations by Sunni lawmakers of a hidden political and sectarian agenda.

The revelations and the ensuing row might also have startling implications for the US efforts to help Iraq rebuild its security forces to battle IS and regain territories it had occupied.

In his 3-part interview Lieut. Gen. Al-Gharawi implicated former Defense Minister Sadoun Al-Dulaimi, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen Aboud Gambar,  Commander of the Land Forces Maj-Gen. Ali Ghaidan and Governor of Mosul Atheel Al- Nujaifi in IS’ seizure of Mosul.

Al-Gharawi, was in charge of the Nineveh Province Operations Command which had several army and police brigades under its control and tasked to defend Mosul and surrounding towns against IS. Various estimates put the number of soldiers in Nineveh before the IS’s onslaught as 50000-70000, based on official accounts of the military units under the Nineveh Province Operations Command.

Al-Gharawi told Al-Baghdadiya Television network, however, that there were only about 7000 soldiers in Nineveh prior to the attack. He said the force was ill-equipped and he had to supply them with arms and ammunitions bought from the black-market.

“There was no one single piece of artillery or a tank in Mosul,” he said.

On 10 June the terror group seized control of Iraq’s third largest city in a blitz attack putting security forces to flight in a spectacular show of strength against the Shia-led Baghdad government.

The capture of Mosul dealt a serious blow to Baghdad’s efforts to fight IS which has regained ground and momentum in Iraq in the months following a Sunni uprising against the government of former Shia Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

As militants overrun the city, the remaining soldiers discarded uniforms and weapons and fled their posts and camps leaving behind huge quantities of weapons and equipment worth millions of dollars.

Thousands of families, mostly Christians, Kurds and Shia, also fled Mosul towards nearby Kurdish cities. The militants also killed thousands of religious minorities and ordered others to convert to Islam, or pay “tribute” money, or leave Mosul.

At the time soldiers interviewed by the media said they had received orders to quit Mosul after militants captured most of the city including army bases and prisons. The soldiers and the fleeing locals described Mosul as being in total chaos after IS’s seizure.

The Islamic radicals later pushed through and seized vast swathes of territories in four other provinces forcing troops and police to retreat. The Baghdad Shia-led government relied heavily on Iran-baked Shia militia to stave off the IS offensive and regain some of the lost territories.

The imbroglio stunned most Iraqis. Many of them wondered how a hundreds of thousands-strong military who costs the treasury nearly have the national budget annually was defeated by a small, worse-equipped and barely funded foe. Many Iraqis called for bringing those officers who failed to provide leadership and an example and were responsible for the heavy defeat to account.

Al-Maliki, who was also commander in chief of the armed force, refused to take any responsibility or order an investigation. Unabashed, he fought a bitter battle to stay in power after April’s election despite strong opposition to his bid for a third term.

In November, the parliament formed a 16-member committee to investigate the fall of Mosul. At the core of its task is to sort out who in the government and the military leadership were behind the strategic follies in Mosul and the subsequent operational deficiencies in the security forces.

The committee has thus far interviewed Gambar and Ghaidan but the proceedings were postponed after complaints of a sectarian agenda by the Shia head of the committee and its Shia members. Sunni-oriented media accused the panel of trying to implicate Sunni and former Baathist officers and officials in the fall of Mosul.

Last week the parliament added three more Sunni members to the committee in a bid to strike a balance in its makeup and decided to summon all civilian and military officials involved in the Mosul conflict and its aftermath to the inquiry. Some Sunni lawmakers who fear a whitewash demanded that the committee question Al-Maliki who is now vice president and may use his immunity to skip the inquiry.

In his version of the story, Al-Gharawi tried to imply that Al-Maliki was a victim in the situation and blamed top military commanders of deceiving the former prime minister. Al-Gharawi was one of the most trusted generals by Al-Maliki and his testimony would allow suspicions to accelerate.

Accusations to Al-Maliki, however, came from more important sources. Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani had repeatedly said that Al-Maliki was responsible for the quick defeat of the army in Mosul. In several statements and interviews Barzani said he had warned Al-Maliki about the risk of Nineveh province falling and IS movements to the west of the city.

Al-Maliki has denied receiving a phone call from Barzani before IS attack on the city of Mosul. He accused Barzani of complicity in IS’s takeover of Mosul and harbouring “terrorists” in Erbil, Kurdistan’s provincial capital.

However, the blame game provided a rare insight into the Iraqi military’s status and in particular its command, control and communication systems. Though reports about rampant corruption, inefficiency and sectarianism in the Iraqi army have long been rife, the exchange revealed an entirely dysfunctional and demoralized military.

Even before conclusions are drawn by the committee Al-Maliki’s successor Haider Al-Abadi has began to purge the security forces from corrupt and incompetent officers. He had fired dozens of officers and announced the discovery and removal of 50,000 ghost army soldiers from the pay rolls.

Still, this scandalous disclosure about the military’s failure is expected to have severe consequences on efforts to rebuild a professional army and plans to retake Mosul and other areas seized by IS probably in the spring.

It could also undermine efforts to launch national reconciliation and ensure a broader participation of Sunnis in the government and security forces, a demand put by Sunni politicians to participate in Al-Abadi’s government and join in fighting IS.

As Iraqi officials squabble over responsibility for the Mosul’s fall, the pressing question for the Obama administration remains how the chaos inside the Iraqi security forces and mal-functioning of its command will impact the US engagement in Iraq.

The IS’s advances in Iraq prompted President Barack Obama to abandon his earlier policy of non interference in Iraq and reengaged in the war-torn country both militarily and politically. He immediately ordered air strikes against IS and unveiled a strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militant group.

According to the Obama plan the US will help train, equip and advise the Iraqi security forces in order to give them a psychological boost and improve their combat skills. The plan also calls for arming a Sunni force including members of Saddam Hussein’s army to fight against IS and help stabilize the Sunni-dominated provinces. This approach also entails efforts to allow Sunnis a bigger say in the Baghdad government and a sort of provincial autonomy.

If after eleven years the Iraqi military remains fraught with sectarianism, suspicion and distrust that allowed IS to rise and seize nearly one third of the country, the question is: how can the United States help rebuild it to defeat the terrorist organization without repeating the same ritual.

Back in 2003 and under US pressure, many of the Baath’s ex-officers were allowed to join the new Iraqi army which was established following the dismantling of Saddam’s army. Among them were Al-Gharawi, Ghaidan and Ganbar along with hundreds of officers who later took command of the security forces.

 Though these former Saddam’s army officers were Shia, like the three generals in question, many Iraqis remained skeptical about their political loyalty. When the Iraqi army collapsed, it was Shia militia backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard who were called to defend the Baghdad government.