The Mosul Offensive And What Comes Next

Israel’s warning about Syria

Israel has warned that any future peace agreement in Syria that would unify all forces in that country against the Islamic State must also provide for the withdrawal of Iranian forces. The Israeli warning gives away the rough outlines of a possible agreement which would bring the civil war between President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition in Syria to an end and would establish some sort of a temporary peace until conditions for free and peaceful elections are established. According to the Israelis, the maintenance of Iranian forces in Syria after the conclusion of the peace agreement would turn into a kind of the most sensitive point, primarily on the Golan Heights, that could at any point turn into an armed confrontation.

The latest battles of the Iraqi army against the Islamic State in western Mosul points to a slow but strong military campaign, as part of a broad coalition, which is very gradually taking territory away from the terrorists, inflicting severe losses on them in terms of personnel and equipment and pushing them out towards Syria and locations from which they first arrived.

The apparent outcome of the Mosul offensive

In fact, the apparent outcome of the Mosul offensive is not a surprise. The Islamic State was never capable of maintaining effective control of territory it occupied two years ago, particularly given its lack of manpower and financial resources, as well as its system of government which did not secure the support of the local population. An Iraqi victory is therefore only a matter of time and the price which they will pay for it, whether it is in terms of civilian and troop casualties.  In this regard, it is evident that the Islamic State will continue to use civilians as defense shields which will result in the loss of innocent lives. In fact, this is a fundamental problem of the coalition fighting against the “Caliphate,” given that the United States and other member countries certainly do not want to participate in the slaughter of the civilian population, regardless of which side would actually shoulder the blame.

The Islamic State conquered Mosul without many casualties, primarily as a result of the fear which gripped the Iraqi army at that time. The city’s liberation may take a different course. The Iraqis will certainly try to destroy as many members of the Islamic State as possible in this offensive by encircling them and engaging in street combat. The United States and other coalition members, on the other hand, view the main battle as yet to take place in Syria, in Raqqa and surrounding areas, where the terrorist organization is based. For them, what is happening now is merely a preliminary phase for the final offensive which is yet to come. For this reason, as well as the need to maintain public support, primarily in the Arab and broader Muslim world, it is necessary for the coalition to ensure that civilian casualties are kept to a minimum in order to avoid another Aleppo scenario (regardless of the roles of attacker and defender being reversed in this instance).

Iraq has suffered the catastrophe of war which, in the past few years, also included a terrorist campaign that has all but practically destroyed the possibility for normal life in that country. Syria has undergone a similar experience and the question of peace and stability no longer lies in who will occupy higher or lower positions in government in the future. Ordinary people want peace at any price, as well as basic security, so the warring parties will have to reach an agreement in one way or another in order to end and eventually overcome the absurdity that has become the status quo in the region.

Contingency Operating Base Rabiy in Mosul, Iraq. Photo by US Army / CC BY 2.0

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Mirko Stefanovic

Reseacher at CEI-IUL. Associate Professor at Law School of University NOVA in Lisbon. A Lawyer by education, he served as State Secretary and General Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia. Between 1992 and 2001 he was Ambassador of Yugoslavia in Israel and between 2011 and 2015 he was Ambassador of Serbia in Portugal.

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