Tag Archives: Mosul

What is Turkey up to in Iraq?

What is Turkey up to in Iraq?

Turkey is stepping up its confrontational rhetoric against Iraq. It is time to recognise its threat to regional geopolitics, writes Salah Nasrawi

The heated diplomatic bickering between Iraq and Turkey over the liberation of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) terror group prompts two questions. Is the worst of the tug of war between the two neighbouring countries now coming, and what impact will the conflict have on the regional order?

The latest row started when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that once Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was taken back from IS, it should be for Sunni Muslims only, excluding Shia Muslims and other religious minorities from the city.

“I want to make it clear that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Western coalition will not allow sectarian domination [in Mosul]. But there is a key question: Who will then control the city? Of course, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Turkmens and Sunni Kurds,” Erdogan told a Saudi-owned television network on 2 October.

Iraq’s Shia-dominated “Popular Mobilisation Force PMF should not be allowed to enter Mosul,” Erdogan said through an interpreter.

Earlier, Erdogan said that the Turkish army would play a role in the looming battle to liberate Mosul from IS and that no party could prevent this from happening. “We will play a role in the Mosul liberation operation and no one can prevent us from participating,” Erdogan told the Turkish parliament.

Turkey has an estimated 2,000 troops in Bashiqa some 12km east of Mosul. Ankara maintains that the troops are necessary to protect the Turkish military mission at a camp for training Iraqi fighters who hope to participate in the battle to recapture Mosul.

The Turkish parliament last week extended a government mandate by one year that allows Turkish troops to remain on Iraqi and Syrian soil. Turkey launched a major military operation in northern Syria in August to clear Kurdish insurgents from the frontier region, and the onslaught raised concerns of further escalation in increasingly fraught regional conflicts.

Erdogan’s escalation over Mosul immediately provoked reactions from Iraq. The Iraqi parliament labelled the Turkish troops an ‘occupying force,’ while the government requested an emergency session of the UN Security Council “to discuss the Turkish encroachment onto Iraqi territory and intervention in its internal affairs.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi raised fears that Turkey’s move could lead to regional war, and the leaders of Iran-backed Shia militias threatened to fight the Turkish troops and expel them from Iraq by force.

Ankara has, meanwhile, lambasted the Iraqi reaction and insisted that it will not withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the Iraqi ambassador in Ankara to protest against the Iraqi parliament’s unacceptable resolution.

Baghdad then summoned the Turkish envoy in Iraq in a tit-for-tat move.

In examining the Turkish argument over the crisis, five claims emerge that underline Ankara’s policy towards post-IS Iraq.

First, Turkish troops have been invited into the country by Iraq and their presence there is upon agreement with the Baghdad government. Some Turkish officials say the troop presence was arranged through president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani.

Iraqi officials categorically deny that the Turkish troops are in the country with Baghdad’s permission or knowledge, however. They also say that Barzani has no legal authority to invite foreign forces into Iraq.

Second, Turkey maintains that troops from 63 foreign countries have been sent into Iraq without Iraq objecting. Baghdad says that only foreign military experts have been invited in by the Iraqi government and they are not combat troops.

Third, Turkey claims Iraq is fragmented and has no right to object to the Turkish military presence. Turkish officials say that the Iraqi authorities are weak and cannot control events on the ground. Iraqi officials insist, however, that their country is a sovereign state and that Iraqi security forces are capable of stabilising Mosul after its liberation.

Fourth, Turkish officials say their troops were sent in to protect Sunni Turkmen in Mosul and to ensure that the demographic structure of the region will not be changed following the city’s recapture from IS.

Fifth, Turkey maintains that the troops are there to fight IS militants alongside the US-led international coalition. Both Baghdad and Washington say the Turkish army is on its own in Iraq and is not part of the alliance.

Sixth, Turkey claims that Iran’s influence in Iraq has increased since the sudden advances by IS in the summer of 2014, with the leaders of the Tehran-backed PMF showing the determination of their Shia fighters to participate in the Mosul offensive. Iraqi officials, meanwhile, reject Mosul’s being turned into a battleground for proxy regional conflicts.

On this score, Turkey’s narrative about Mosul effectively illustrates its desire to assert a direct military and strategic role in Iraq. Turkish officials say their troops will remain in Iraq despite Baghdad’s growing anger ahead of the planned operation to retake Mosul from IS.

As the launch of the operation to liberate Mosul approaches, tensions between the two sides have escalated.

Baghdad insists that there is no role for Turkish forces in the liberation of Mosul. Al-Abadi has warned Turkey that the “presence of its troops in Iraq won’t be a picnic.” The leaders of the PMF have also threatened possible attacks against Turkish troops when the Mosul offensive starts.

For many analysts, the shrill rhetoric and sabre-rattling emanating from Iraq and Turkey in recent days threatens to turn the battle for Mosul into another regional conflict, with attempts by competing powers to gain advantage by changing the facts on the ground.

Turkey is playing a risky game in the Iraqi conflict that could even lead to a wider war. The presence of the Turkish forces in the vicinity of the war zone with IS could spark a direct military confrontation between the Turkish troops and the advancing Iraqi forces.

With the participation of the PMF fighters who regard Turkey as an expansionist power trying to create a de facto presence in northern Iraq, the stakes are high that the standoff will turn into a broader, and more dangerous confrontation.

Turkey has taken to arguing that it has no territorial ambitions in Iraq and that it is only in the country to defend its interests and fight Kurdish insurgents who threaten Turkey’s national unity.

Yet, there is a broad consensus that the assertive Turkish approach in Iraq entails far-reaching geopolitical interests that are more than what they appear to be in Turkey’s claiming to help to defeat IS.

To understand the direction of Turkey’s foreign policy in post-IS Mosul, it is necessary to ask why Turkey is extending its security interests to northern Iraq as the country prepares to retake Mosul from the militants.

Turkey’s long-term strategy is based on attempts to scuttle efforts by the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria to establish an independent Kurdish state on its southern borders.

In order to benefit from what is expected to be a prolonged period of instability in northern Iraq following the liberation of Mosul, Turkey wants the strategic city to be a cornerstone in its plans to create a pocket of territory separating Iraqi Kurdistan from Kurdish-held territories in neighbouring Syria.

Together with dozens of outposts inside Iraqi Kurdistan and the security zone Turkey is building in northern Syria, Turkish strategists hope to erect barriers that will make the Kurdish dream of a state on its southern borders a mere ‘Swiss cheese’ under its control.

The real problem with this approach, however, is that building military settlements with cooperation from local (Sunni) populations might be impossible to achieve without plunging the region into a broader ethno-sectarian conflict.

On Saturday, five major parties in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region blasted the presence of Turkish troops in Mosul as ‘illegal’ and demanded that Turkey immediately withdraw its troops from Iraq.

They said they were “committed to preserving the sovereignty of the land of Kurdistan”. Some of the groups, such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have been working closely with Turkish separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas who have exploited the chaos in Mosul to build up bases in the area.

Ankara’s other concern is that the possible power shifts and geopolitical changes that will take place after the liberation of Mosul could give Iran advantages over Turkey. Turkey fears that the presence of PMF forces, which it believes are an umbrella for Tehran-backed Shia militias, will shift the balance and strengthen Iran’s position in the region.

On Tuesday Erdogan escalated his barbs and insult against al-Abadi.

“Know your limits. You are not in my quality. Even you are not in my level,”   Erdogan told al-Abadi in an address in Istanbul.

“The Turkish military will enter Mosul,” he added.

Nevertheless, by insisting that its troops will stay in Iraq despite its government’s rejection and widespread public opposition, Turkey is fundamentally challenging not only the established borders of Iraq but also the established regional order.

The sad reality is that the two countries have lacked diplomatic traffic or reasonable interlocutors to try to defuse the tensions and deter a flare-up. Hopes of a breakthrough are being undermined by Ankara’s insistence that it is not belligerent and by Baghdad’s rhetoric.

As things stand, northern Iraq may be heading towards a more dangerous confrontation after the collapse of IS in Mosul, and the entire region could face a greater threat than at any other point during the Iraqi and Syrian crises.

This article appeared first in Al Ahram Weekly on October 13, 2016

What does Turkey want in Iraq?

What does Turkey want in Iraq?

Turkey’s latest military gambit in Iraq could be a strategic game-changer, writes Salah Nasrawi

As Iraq continues to suffer, Turkey’s incursions into its war-torn neighbour have become ever more brazen. On 4 December, a column of Turkish troops and equipment crossed the border in the far south of the country at the Ibrahim Al-Khalil border crossing with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region.

The convoy of several hundred Turkish soldiers and flatbed trucks carrying armoured vehicles made its way at night through territory and checkpoints controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga forces to Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, some 80 km to the south.

Turkish media later reported that some 150 to 200 Turkish soldiers backed by 20 to 25 tanks had been sent to Bashiqa, traditionally a Christian Chaldean-populated district north-east of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which fell to the Islamic State (IS) terror group in June 2014.

The Turkish Hürriyet newspaper reported that Turkey plans to set up a permanent military base in Bashiqa under a deal signed between Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) president Massoud Barzani and former Turkish foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu during the latter’s visit to northern Iraq on 4 November.

By establishing a foothold in Bashiqa, seized by the Peshmergas after IS advances last year, Turkey will be able to establish another bridgehead in this strategic part of northern Iraq. Since 1995, the Turkish army has built at least four known military bases inside Iraq in the Dohuk Province, which is under the control of Barzani’s Democratic Kurdistan Party (DKP) administration.

When news of the incursion broke, prompting an angry reaction from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad, Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu acknowledged the intervention but said the soldiers had been deployed to provide training for unspecified Iraqi troops in response to a request from Iraq.

But Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi denied “a request or authorisation from the Iraqi federal authorities” for the deployment had been made and told Turkey to “immediately” withdraw its forces, including tanks and artillery. The deployment “is considered a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” Al-Abadi said in a statement.

Turkey’s relationship with Iraq has been tense over a host of issues ranging from its routine military incursions into Iraq, water conflicts, illegal oil exports, and disputes over what Iraq perceives as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s interference in Iraq’s sectarian disputes.

What the newly assembled Turkish force tells us, however, is something more significant than the building of a new bridgehead inside Iraq, which the Turkish military buildup indicates. The buildup hints at a wider intervention aimed at creating a new reality on the ground in the war-torn country which is now threatened with breakup.

The past several weeks of Turkish activities in Iraq and Syria demonstrate that Ankara has found a new tactic for carrying out its overreaching strategy for achieving its goals and interests in both countries. Turkey’s course of action in the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts clearly signals its intention to assert its regional policy aims and objectives.

The new Turkish troop deployment comes amid preparations by the Iraqi security forces, Iran-backed Shia militias, and pro-government Sunni tribes backed by the US-led international coalition to storm the Iraqi town of Ramadi and take it back from IS militants.

If Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s western Anbar Province, is to be liberated from IS militants, the combined Iraqi forces are then expected to move to take back Mosul, Iraq’s largest city still under IS control.

The Turkish intervention, therefore, would seem to precipitate any move by the Iraqi forces and the Shia militias to take back Mosul for reasons related to Ankara’s views about Iraq’s inter-communal conflicts, its future as a unitary state, and the regional strategic balance, especially with Iran.

The camp in Bashiqa is currently being used by a force called Al-Hashd Al-Watani (National Mobilisation Units), which is made up of about 4,000 to 6,000 mainly Sunni Arab former Iraqi policemen and volunteers from Mosul.

The force, believed to be equipped and trained by Turkey, was formed by former Mosul governor Atheel Al-Nujaifi, who is close to Turkey.

The new Turkish troop dispatch came a few days after Iraq rejected a US proposal to deploy a new force of special operations troops in Iraq to conduct raids against IS there and in neighbouring Syria. The Turkish move has now created a new reality on the ground that will make it impossible for Baghdad to move to retake Mosul unilaterally without confronting the Turkish troops.

The presence of foreign ground forces is a contentious issue in Iraq, whose Shia-led government feels caught between the United States and its powerful neighbours. Last week, Al-Abadi rejected a proposal by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter to deploy a special forces contingent to carry out raids against IS.

He also rejected a proposal by two senior US senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for Washington to send a 100,000-strong force from Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to Iraq as part of a multinational ground force to counter IS.

All this is compounded by the fact that the conflict in Iraq is now hurtling into a downward spiral. The Turkish buildup will most likely complicate the fight against IS in both Iraq and Syria and especially the new international alliance that is emerging to take down the terror group.

The United States has distanced itself from Turkey’s putting its troops into Iraq, saying that Turkey’s deployment of hundreds of soldiers in northern Iraq is not part of the activities of the international coalition it leads in Iraq and Syria.

The new crisis triggered by Turkey’s intervention in Iraq is likely to be the latest complication in the war against IS, especially after US President Barack Obama pledged this week to “destroy” IS following its claiming the attack in San Bernardino, California, and the increasing role of NATO in the campaign.

Since Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet last month, the country’s western NATO allies have scaled down their coordination with Ankara in the war against IS. Germany has reportedly drawn up plans to prevent sharing intelligence with Turkey as it prepares to support international air strikes against IS.

But Ankara seems to have remained defiant, and the Turkish media reported this week that the country may increase its presence in Bashiqa by hundreds more soldiers in order to bring the total number of troops near Mosul to more than 2,000.

A pledge by Davutoglu that Turkey would not send in additional forces was not good enough to placate Baghdad, which has threatened Ankara with UN action and resistance to the buildup.

This may explain how Turkey plans to make the crisis over the troop deployment in the Mosul area a strategic game-changer in Iraq and Syria after tensions with Russia escalated following Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane last month.

The flare-up has thwarted Turkey’s plans to establish a safe haven in northern Syria, where it had hoped to use the zone to expand its influence in its southern neighbour and block Turkish Kurdish separatists from operating from an emerging autonomous Kurdish enclave in Syria.

Ankara’s adventure in Iraq, therefore, seems to be a two-pronged strategy: a slight change in its plans in Iraq to make up for its aspired safety zone in Syria, and a way of exploiting the turmoil in Iraq in order to advance its long-term agenda in its other southern neighbour.

It is no longer a secret that Turkey has stakes in Iraq, and ever since the 2003 US-led invasion Ankara has been a major regional actor in the beleaguered country, apparently trying to counterbalance Shia Iran’s increasing influence there.

In addition to using its beefed-up presence in northern Iraq to undermine the Kurdish Workers Party’s (PKK) objectives, including having free rein in both Syria and Iraq, the Turkish strategy aims at confronting the increasing Iranian influence in Iraq which is likely to receive a further boost if the Shia militias take part in liberating Mosul from IS.

Underlining Turkey’s aspiring role as a regional Sunni powerhouse and a traditional competitor with Shia Iran for influence in Iraq, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted Tehran’s “sectarian policies” in Iraq and Syria on Monday, which he said were a danger to the region.

To understand the reasons behind the Turkish military buildup in Mosul, one should also pay a brief visit to recent Middle Eastern history. According to the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, signed by Turkey and the allies in the First World War to define the Turkish border following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Mosul was given to the newly established Iraqi state.

Many in Turkey believe that Mosul, at that time an Ottoman velayet, or province, that included all northern Iraq, was unduly cut off from the remaining territories of the Empire, what is today Turkey, and they now aspire to see it connected back to the Turkish homeland.

Many experts worry that Erdoğan, who is showing an increasing obsession with reviving Ottomanism, may now try to take advantage of Iraq’s troubles to advance a territorial agenda that includes the annexation of Mosul if the country breaks up.

“If Turkey has reinforced its troops in Mosul with the secret intention of gaining land, then it has launched into a very dangerous venture,” Turkish columnist Taha Akyol wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News on Monday.

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.