A shakier foundation cannot ensure the long-term durability of a two-storey walkup. Expecting it to support a towering skyscraper would be akin to living in a state of extreme delusion.The battle for Mosul -- touted as one of the final death blows to ISIL -- has begun on a shaky foundation. So shaky, in fact, that the building of enduring Iraqi peace can't be constructed on it. The Mosul offensive has the trappings of Amerli, Fallujah, Kirkuk and Tikrit combined into one -- and with a much greater human toll. ISIL will undoubtedly be wiped out from Mosul in a few months, if not weeks. The problem lies in the post-ISIL Mosul. A massive refugee crisis, rampant war crimes perpetuated by the Iran-backed militias; and a total collapse of the civic infrastructure are some of the likeliest outcomes.
On paper, the blueprint for the recapturing of Mosul looks perfect. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces would enter from the east; the Iraqi army will advance from the west; and the US will carry out the air strikes. The Shiite militias, a key part of the campaign, are assigned to take positions at the periphery of the city with only the regular Iraqi army entering the city center. The plan would ideally ensure the fall of Mosul in a few weeks. This has happened before. American military advisers and US military equipment played a key role in the retaking of Amerli, Fallujah and Kirkuk. Before that, Americans mounted a successful offensive against the extremists in Fallujah in 2006. It was the aftermath that paved ground for the ultimate rise of ISIL.
The Plan A doesn't take into account the "day after" impact of the offensive. It overlooks the human toll, both in terms of lives lost and mass uprooting of civilians from their ancestral homes. It also favors quick results over enduring success. Fallujah in 2006 is the prime example of this approach. After enabling the locals to rise against Al-Qaeda, Americans left them at the mercy of a deeply sectarian Iraqi government. Years of neglect, abuses and state brutalities ultimately gave rise to ISIL. Only then the Americans woke up and dust up the old plans for re-implementation.
The operations against ISIL reflect this harrowing trend. US practically turned a blind eye to mass executions and grave violations of human rights by Shiite militias and the Iraqi army. The abuses, which bordered on war crimes, were pervasive and systematic, as reported by the Amnesty International. The trigger-happy militias were often joined by the regular Iraqi army in inflicting some of the worst torture on hapless civilians. In Fallujah alone, over 900 men and boys were abducted and are still missing -- presumably dead.
These blood-thirsty militias are now ready to pounce upon the Mosulawis (residents of Mosul). They have already started terrorizing the civilians on their way to the second largest city of Iraq. The regular forces could also use torture and summary executions, fears the Amnesty International. If past precdents are taken into account, both the militias and the regular forces may kill thousands of civilians in Mosul. The U.S. has no plans in place to check on this carnage and might as well become an accessory to the murder. Thus the Mosulawis will transition from being under one tyrant i.e. ISIL to an even greater one i.e. the militias and vengeful Iraqi forces.
This will trigger the refugee crisis. United Nations can only handle up to 250,000 refugees in the coming months. With a population of over one million -- and many wanting to flee -- the refugees could number upwards of 750,000. This could create another uptick in the refugee population in Europe. Although US is actively participating in the offensive, it will most likely not share the burden, as was evident during the Syrian refugee crisis. Has the coalition taken steps to mitigate the crisis? Or is it solely interested in quickly eliminating the ISIL and letting the partisan Iraqi government pick up the pieces?
There has to be a Plan B for the Mosul offensive to be successful. This should essentially exclude the murderous Shiite militias and rely solely on the Kurds, Sunni allies and the regular Iraqi army. More importantly, the US should work with local partners to enforce a safe zone outside the city of Mosul. With humanitarian corridors ensuring safe exits and provision of basic amenities in the safe zone, the flow of refugees can be stemmed.
In an ideal scenario, the refugee crisis should only be a transient situation with everyone returning to their homes. U.S. has not shown the commitment in the past to achieve this end. The existing Iraqi political structure has been designed in a way to deny equal participation to the Sunnis. ISIL owes its very existence to this harsh reality. There is no guarantee a new extremist group won't emerge if ISIL is somehow eliminated. The Plan B should strive to reboot the Iraqi political structure to ensure fair treatment and equal participation of all. Only then can the prospects of enduring peace can be ensured in the region.
Is the U.S. ready to commit? The answer appears to be in the negative. A swift and superficial victory in Mosul will end President Obama's career on a high note. He doesn't seem much interested in the human cost and long-term fallout of the offensive. It will most likely be President Hillary Clinton who will have to clean up the mess. And what a mess it will be!