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Battle for Mosul – risks and temptations

Mosul is not only about fight against terrorism, it is also about public relations

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

The battle for Mosul is attracting global attention and has given some breathing space to the international community from the conflict in Syria. It has also eased off the tension in the media and in diplomatic circles between Russia and the US and its allies over Aleppo.

ISIS is a legacy of the war in Iraq, which was led by the US. A successful operation will mean Obama leaves on a high and may even boost the chances of Hillary Clinton’s victory. Mosul is not only about fight against terrorism, it is also about public relations and the media will do its best to keep it in the headlines until the elections.

Earlier this spring an Iraqi field commander shared with me his prognosis. He said that by the end of 2016, ISIS will be kicked out from Mosul and hopefully even from Iraq. According to him, in 2017, it will be finished even in Syria. This, I thought, was being too optimistic.

Efforts have been made in the past to conduct an operation in Mosul. This time the battle has begun but its timing is still unclear, which has given ISIS the chance to prepare for the assault. The situation in the liberated areas around Mosul suggests that ISIS fighters have built a well-developed web of underground tunnels and bunkers.

There is a serious risk of a very high death toll among civilians. In order to minimize casual-ties, there is a need to minimize the instruments of war and extend the time needed for the complete liberation. Either way, the liberation of Mosul is bound to take time and human lives.

The number of terrorist attacks that might shake Baghdad and probably abroad could also rise. There is also a possibility that this assault will stall, especially when the US will lose in-terest, which predetermined by its domestic politics. Moreover, the liberation of Mosul does not mean a complete mop-up of ISIS from Iraq.

ISIS can be defeated only if it is seen and dealt with as a common enemy by all the sides and by putting all geopolitical rivalries aside

Maria Dubovikova

The Syria spillover

The current geopolitical framework suggests that this battle is decisive mostly for Iraq. As the fight against ISIS remains disintegrated, the liberation of Mosul opens up the possibility of aggravation of the situation in Syria, especially when, it seems, that the international coalition is not so eager to fight ISIS in Syria.

We should also remember that Syria is not Iraq. Syrian government is weak and the army is in a miserable condition. If Mosul is indeed liberated, predictably significant ISIS remnants will flee to Syria. This could not only be manpower but also heavy and light armor. They may not come only from Mosul but also from other ISIS-held areas in Iraq.

The convoys fleeing Mosul in the direction of Syria have already been detected and target-ed by the Iraqi air forces. However, it is clear that enough of such convoys will reach Syria. It should be also admitted that these convoys are also transporting family members of ISIS fighters in Mosul.

Fall of Mosul strengthening ISIS in Syria is probably the worst possible scenario. There might be a temptation to use it to weaken Damascus and to put Russia in an extremely delicate situation. This would leave Russia with only two options – retreat from Syria or extend its involvement, thereby putting itself in Afghanistan-II like situation. The possible strengthen-ing of the ISIS positions in Syria will automatically lead to the relative collapse of the al-ready devastated Syrian Army.

Russia’s support is not enough to fight such an enemy on huge territories without ground support. Support for ground forces can also be limited and will hardly be extended. So for Damascus this scenario is akin to collapse. This could be a problem international community hadn’t witnessed before.

The situation demands a broad ground deployment but it is unlikely that the international coalition is ready for such a thing. ISIS can be defeated only if it is seen and dealt with as a common enemy by all the sides and by putting all geopolitical rivalries aside. Any use of the terror outfit in geopolitical games could prove to be dangerous with large-scale ramifica-tions.
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Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of For-eign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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