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ICG Risk Blog - [ November 17, 2004 ]

Five times larger than Fallujah, Mosul falls to a Baathist controlled Iraqi insurgency


Were this election night, I might be called premature for tipping the race to one candidate over another, but here I think not. I share the opinion that the "Ba'ath Party in Mosul has reconstituted itself and is coordinating attacks in Mosul against Iraqi police, government, and the Kurdish and Christian minorities." I would go so far to presume that the Ba'athist have effectively taken Mosul and we simply weren't attentive. (I'm so reminded of the Mekong delta in the 1960s when we didn't realize that the Viet Cong had taken over the region -- the telltale signs were that that government collected no taxes and its schools had no pupils. In some latter day After Action Report, we will see the precursors in Mosul.)

Consider the following and judge for yourself if US actions in Mosul can be restricted to a "significant operation to secure police stations in the area and make sure they can be put to use again":

  • Mosul and the Governate (province) of Ninewa contributed "hundreds of thousands of officers to elite military units, and the intelligence and Mukhabarat, or security, services [numbering as high as] 10 percent of the population" or over 300,000
  • Sunni Arabs loyal to Hussein were moved into Kurdish areas along the Tigris river
  • Those privileged Ba'athists were purged from dominance in all areas of Iraqi society: military, local, and national governments "over the objections of some Iraqis who feared that the move would alienate the Sunni minority and deprive the post-Hussein regime of the expertise needed to keep the country functioning"
  • Ba'ath Party officials met in Hasakah on the Syrian-Iraqi border in late September, electing a new party leader and appointing officials to run operations in all Iraqi cities
  • These newly reconstituted Ba'athists expelled "all party members who have worked with American forces, the interim Iraqi government, or the Kurdish political parties"
  • Ba'athists have reorganized under a "new, young leadership, mostly from the Mukhabarat and the special military forces" while broadening their base among traditional Sunni Arab tribes "by recruiting the sons of major sheiks"
  • Ba'athists are the prime mover in Mosul's resistance with two armed wings, Umm al-Rimah (mother of all spears) and Hadbah, unlike the "loose-knit coalition [of] tribal militia commanders and jihadi cells" in Fallujah
  • Mosul's Police defected en masse to these wings thereby granting them the "full cooperation of the police"
  • Ba'athists seized the University of Mosul, already "under the sway of Islamic extremists" when the attack commenced on Fallujah
  • Mosul was previously on the relatively pacified list of Iraqi cities, even considered a role model by some for a new Iraqi administration

Of the three-step US process for holding orderly elections in the near term and preparing a US exit in the medium term, only the first is under nominal US control:

  • Clear out the insurgents
  • Build up the Iraqi security forces
  • Develop and install local governments in preparation for national elections

Things are especially demanding as the "Iraqifying" of security and politics is increasingly appearing to be Ba'athist rather than coalition control. I find the failure to create a climate for a viable new Iraqi police force made startlingly clear by the fact that the local "Iraqi police had been ordered off the streets" of Mosul even as new Iraqi police and military units joined US forces from elsewhere.

Unlike Fallujah, which was largely emptied of its residents, some 1.5 million remain in Mosul. A goodly number of those can be assumed to be Ba'athists and insurgents while more are sympathizers willing to pass information and act as a command and control network. Mosul would be Fallujah run riot.

"Reconstruction is as essential as the actual purging of the insurgents," but how can any Iraqi city ever be made sufficiently secure to permit US military engineers to rebuild to rebuild basic infrastructure that "was damaged, not only by fighting but also by years of neglect.

The Ba'athists will insure that we have to leave the cities we assault "with no running water, living in sewage." How can we not leave a devastating anti-American sentiment in our withdrawal while the Ba'athist move in as have Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine to provide essential services.

Mosul sounds more like Mekong.

Note: I refer readers needing good maps of Iraq to the Map Centre of the Humanitarian Information Center (HIC) working under the UN Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI).

US, Iraqi troops fight to retake control in Mosul
By Thanassis Cambanis
Boston Globe
November 17, 2004

Troops Move To Quell Insurgency In Mosul
Cleric Vows to Turn Iraq 'Into One Big Fallujah'
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post
November 17, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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