The United Nations has appealed for an additional £50m to cope with an expected flood of refugees as the Iraqi government starts its operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Daesh.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’ Brien has said: “I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted.”
The UN reckons over 700,000 people could flee the city, but tents are available for only tens of thousands. Average daily temperature lows around Mosul will drop to 4º in December and 2º in January. We can hope that the people of Mosul will be able to make use of the Iraqi government offensive, which began on 17 October, to rise up against Daesh and to defend themselves both from Daesh and from reprisals or sectarianism by the Iraqi army or its allies. But we can make no estimate of how likely or feasible such a rising it.
Rising or no rising, all aspects of this assault should be monitored, scrutinised and observed as civilian life is likely to be seen as collateral damage by all sides in this bloody conflict. The Iraqi government operation is set to last several months. Daesh has controlled the city since June 2014.
Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city. Before 2014 it had a population estimated at up to two million. 60% were Sunni Arabs, about 27% Kurds, with Assyrians, Turkmens, and smaller minorities of Christians and Yazidis. Most of the non-Sunni or non-Arab people have fled since 2014. The Iraqi government counter-attack is heavily supported and aided by the USA, which brokered a deal on oil and gas revenues between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraq in order to get them to cooperate in the counter-attack.
The Iranian government is also surely involved behind the scenes. The announced deal is that Kurdish units, under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Iraqi Shia militias, are part of the operation in the surrounding areas, but will avoid entering Mosul itself so as to reduce resentment and fear in the now almost entirely Sunni Arab population of the city. The actions of Shia militia in other cities re-taken from Daesh have caused great fear among Sunni Arabs in Iraq.
Reprisal attacks, mass shootings, and destruction of mosques has often accompanied “liberation” by fighters who seek sectarian vengeance against those whom they view as collaborating with Daesh. When swathes of Sunni-Arab-majority territory were taken over by Daesh in June 2014, many locals who had suffered from repression, sectarianism, neglect, and corruption under the Maliki and Abadi governments saw little difference, or maybe even some improvement, as long as they followed Daesh rules. Many will be disillusioned now, after living under Daesh terror, but fears of reprisal could drive them back into the arms of a Daesh underground continuing guerrilla war after the Baghdad government reconquers Mosul. 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga and 30,000 government troops are pitched against anywhere up to 8,000 Daesh fighters. The operation will not be over quickly.
Amaq, one of the Daesh news sites, reports a series of suicide attacks against Iraqi government forces as US and UK airstrikes continue to bombard Daesh territory. Turkey has troops as well as tanks on the ground, as part of its growing collaboration with the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq. The Turkish government also cites the historic presence of Turkmen in Mosul as entitlement to a stake in this fight. Its alliance with the KRG, which extends back to a gas deal made in 2011, will give it a say in how the operation is conducted and in the subsequent exploitation of the oil fields around Mosul. Daesh have lost 50% of their territory since they declared their "caliphate".
The loss of towns like Manbij has hit them financially, and they lack human resources and supply routes. Some experts believe that Daesh will be defeated at least militarily by late 2017; others think it will take longer. However, even after a Daesh defeat in the open field, thousands of Daesh fighters may disperse for terrorist activities, or go underground and then build on anger against the Iraqi government again failing to fulfil its promises to the Sunni minority. Recent history shows the Baghdad Government to be viciously sectarian and both unable and unwilling to satisfy the demands of the Sunni Arabs.