There is a map distributed by the Institute for the Study of War showing the areas of proliferation and control of ISIS. Since 2014, there has always been a large black dot on the map with lines connected to it. In the last version of the map this point representing the city of Mosul disappeared. The city was liberated from the terrorist organization and both Iraqis and Americans saw it as a historic moment.
In an interview with reporters at the Pentagon, the commander of the coalition forces against ISIS General Townsend asserted that it is important to reach a political consensus between the Iraqi parties; specifically pointing out that the Sunnis of Iraq have long considered that the government in Baghdad does not represent them.
Ashton Carter, who since the beginning of 2015 until the beginning of this year has supervised the war against ISIS, wrote a column in the Washington Post in which he said he was less worried about the military campaign in Iraq than “the political and economic campaigns that must follow.” The former US defense secretary added that: “Unless Iraqis are satisfied with what comes next, there will be a slide back to chaos and radicalism.”
Carter’s and General Townsend’s remarks coincide with their assessment of the situation. They are joined by estimates from non-governmental experts who have visited Baghdad and some areas of Iraq over the past months and returned to Washington with a bleak outlook. The US research center has also drawn up case studies and submitted them to the administration.
Sarhang Hamasaeed, director of Middle East programs at the United States Institute of Peace, told AlArabiya.net that “Iraq’s existence and unity on the map is an external demand, adding that the internal situation suffers from a large division between the Iraqi components as well as within the Iraqi components.”
The hard line Iranian part of the Popular Mobilization Forces wants to consolidate its current spread in the Sunni majority and is preparing to extend its long-term Iranian presence networkPierre Ghanem
The Iraqi components
Americans generally consider that the bloody history among Iraqis drives the parties to maintain themselves as independent components, and each component has its own position from the other. The Shiites in general consider themselves a majority that must rule.
The Americans also note that the tension is due to the Shiite-Kurdish relations, and their information indicates that the Peshmerga and the Popular Mobilization Forces are preparing for confrontations in mixed areas. US fears are focused on the “Sunni problem”. General Townsend says that ISIS “will try to use the Sunni population as a cover, making the cells even smaller.”
Popular Mobilization Forces
The restoration of Mosul is good news. Nevertheles, the next stage is marked by great challenges; most importantly, the return of stability in Iraq. In the absence of a broad inter-sectarian project, the Popular Mobilization Forces and Iran seem to have clear plans.
The Americans classify the Popular Mobilization Forces into two large sections. The first part follows the teaching of the Shiite ideology represented by Ali al-Sistani while the other part is supported and controlled by Iran. This hardline Iranian part of the Popular Mobilization Forces wants to consolidate its current spread in the Sunni majority and is preparing to extend its long-term Iranian presence network.
American experts who have recently visited Iraq and spoke to AlArabiya.net highlighted that the presence of the Popular Mobilization Forces in these areas is much larger than expected, and that the latter began attracting Sunni tribes by giving them salaries and weapons. Furthermore, the Popular Mobilization Forces began making alliances with these Sunni clans in preparation for the next election.
The Americans also point out that these pro-Iranian militias gained a lot of influence in many areas of Mosul and wants, under the auspices of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, to move families to new areas and take control of Sinjar and Tal Afar, as well as to ensure their expansion at the borders with Syria.
Thus, the “Iranian highway”, which stretches from Tehran to Baghdad and Damascus, is not a paved road, but rather a mixture of clan bodies, political figures and multi-ethnic militias which are loyal to Iran in ensuring the extension of its influence and suppressing any insurgency in the future.
The soft Iranian occupation
The Americans describe the Iranian presence in Iraq after Mosul as existing from the bottom to the top and present in all joints. This Iranian interlocking presence with the Iraqi factions can be described as a soft Iranian occupation. The Arab regional presence is almost absent, while the Americans are talking to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The coalition commander stated that: “The Iraqi government has expressed its interest in keeping US and coalition forces after defeating ISIS,” adding that “the US government and some coalition governments have expressed interest in this effort, pointing out that the decision in this regard is in its final stages.” Former US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also called for keeping a US military presence in Iraq “to improve the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.”
In the past, President Donald Trump had strongly criticized the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then strongly criticized the full exit of the Americans at the end of 2011 as well as the failure of former President Barack Obama to keep a large US force on the ground, which opened the door for the return of terrorism and the collapse of the situation in Iraq.
Pierre Ghanem is an Al Arabiya correspondent based in Washington, D.C.