Iraqi forces could face a greater challenge in the next confrontation with Daesh

For the first time since the defeat of Daesh, Mosul is hit by a bomb. The Iraqi government is preparing for battle, but internal disagreements and Daesh’s change in tactics could mean it won’t be an easy task.

In this file photo from Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, Iraqi army soldiers man a checkpoint as oil wells burn on the outskirts of Qayyarah, Iraq. (AP Archive)

“Honourable Iraqis, your land has been completely liberated. The dream of liberation is now a reality. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi announced the final victory over Daesh in a televised speech on December 6, 2017.

As the country began to rebuild from scratch, Daesh indicated that it was making a brutal comeback with kidnappings, assassinations and small-scale bombings. in desert areas.

Nearly a year after Abadi’s victory was announced, a car bomb hit Mosul, formerly Daesh’s so-called caliphate, for the first time since the city was taken over.

Finally, on November 6 this year, the Iraqi army deployed 30,000 troops to the border with Syria, fearing that Daesh might withdraw from Syria into Iraq following operations by the US-led coalition. in this war-torn country.

But according to a report by the UN, up to 30,000 members of Daesh are already still active in Iraq and Syria.

The first fight against Daesh was not easy as the Iraqi government believed. Reclaiming Mosul took nine months of urban warfare.

When Daesh swept through Mosul in June 2014, too weak to fight, the Iraqi army left the city within hours without a fight.

Later, a US-led coalition with Peshmerga forces and the Hashd al Shaabi, an Iran-backed, Shia-dominated Iraqi militia, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), has become the main tool in the fight against Daesh.

Hussam Botani, chief analyst at the Washington-based Center for International and Strategic Studies, said the fight against Daesh will not be an easy task for the Iraqi government due to issues such as disagreements over the Hashd al Shaabi forces and a Daesh now. fight with a different mindset.

Another controversy: the forces of Hashd al Shaabi

“There are disagreements between Shaabi and the Iraqi army. Because Hashd al Shaabi forces have asked for a new budget and the new government is unable to afford to increase the budget,” Botani said. TRT World.

Hashd al Shaabi has been fighting alongside the Iraqi army since 2014, as a group of independent volunteers. But the group began collecting salaries from the Iraqi government in 2016, when legislation was passed. pass officially recognizing the group as part of the military.

Prior to the legislation, the group was desperate for any kind of combat support on the ground. The Iraqi government has supported the Hashd al Shaabi mobilization since its founding, despite human rights groups accusing the group of extrajudicial killings, torture, imprisonment and forcible deportation of Sunni Iraqis.

Their involvement in Iraqi politics became a matter of debate during the Iraqi elections, when a prominent Hashd al Shaabi commander and head of the Badr Organization, Hadi al Ameri, formed the Al Fatah alliance with three other Shia groups , with the aim of entering parliament.

“The Iraqi army began to recover after Abadi’s term ended,” Botani said.

However, the group’s indirect involvement in Iraqi politics has never ceased to be a point of contention within the Iraqi government – ​​particularly the fact that the leader of the group remained the same after it was legalized.

Although officially part of the Iraqi army, overall responsibilities of the army, including responsibility for military actions, do not apply to the group. “This causes uncontrolled use of weapons in Iraq,” says Botani.

The United States has also raised concerns about the influence of Iran-backed groups in the fight after the Iraqi government asked Shiite factions to coordinate with the military to protect the border.

According to Mustafa Habib, an analyst of Iraqi politics, there are two reasons for this.

“First (sic) the difficulty of dealing with Shia factions in the administration of operations, in particular the role of the United States is based on providing intelligence information that can reach Shia factions that have already allied to other Shiite factions in Syria, Iran can get this information,” Habib wrote on Twitter.

“Second, concern over the ambitions of Shiite factions close to Iran, who aspire to open the route between Iran and Syria via Iraq, threatens US forces in Anbar and its plan to prevent Iran to open this route since 2014.”

Daesh’s change of tactics: a two-pronged plan

After Daesh lost its territories to the Iraqi army, it retreated to areas away from Iraqi cities, limiting most of its attacks to sparsely populated areas. But recent attacks have become deadlier and more apparent.

A recent suicide bombing targeted a restaurant on the road between the northern towns of Tikrit and Baiji, killing three people and injuring 34 – marking the deadliest attack claimed by the terror group since its July defeat in Mosul.

“It’s for a cause,” Botani said. “The group has adapted a two-pronged plan since the fall of their so-called caliphate.”

It still operates in cities, where the Iraqi army is strong, but in secret.

“Once they feel superior to the Iraqi army, they will also start attacking cities again,” says Botani.

On the other hand, their activities in the deserts and remote areas are more daring, knowing that the Iraqi army is not strong enough to carry out the fight as well in the deserts as in the cities.

Daesh’s objective in 2014, when taking over Mosul, was to create a “state” and expand its territories as much as possible. At its peak, it controlled 40% of Iraq and 98% of that territory was taken over, according to the United States.

Botani says, “They want to go back to where they were in 2014.” But they are aware of the difficulty of regaining full power, so this time have a different mindset.

“Daesh has now moved on to the idea of ​​operating as an insurgent group rather than focusing on establishing a state,” Botani said.

“That’s why Baghdad is trying to prepare for this possible encounter with Daesh, but it won’t be an easy task for the Iraqi army.”

Source: World TRT

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