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Exclusive – Terrorism Rears its Head in Mosul to Threaten Iraq Political Process

Exclusive – Terrorism Rears its Head in Mosul to Threaten Iraq Political Process

Saturday, 10 November, 2018 - 07:45
Iraqi forces arrive to take part in a victory celebration after defeating ISIS in Mosul, Iraq July 2, 2017. (Reuters)
Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa
Iraqis are living in a constant state of fear over the re-emergence of terrorism in the country. Once awakened, terrorist sleeper cells in the country can spread like wildfire in the country and are lying in constant wait to attack at any political misstep. Unfortunately, Iraq is rife with such missteps.

In 2010, then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s second government was formed without naming the interior and defense ministers due to political disputes. The PM occupied those posts for the next four years.

At the end of his tenure, ISIS swept through the Nineveh province, starting with Mosul city and reaching the Salaheddine region and parts of Diyala, Anbar and Kirkuk, almost reaching Baghdad and Erbil.

That dangerous situation did not motivate political powers to nominate interior and defense ministers, leaving the country’s fate to elections that saw Haidar al-Abadi come to power to replace Maliki.

He sought to fill those vacant posts, but they remained empty even as ISIS was knocking on Baghdad’s door. Weeks later, Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, a Shiite, as is the custom, became interior minister and Khaled al-Obaidi, as Sunni, became defense minister. Some two years later, political disputes and a massive bombing in Baghdad led to Ghabban’s resignation. He was replaced by Qasim al-Araji. Parliament also withdrew confidence from Obaidi and he was replaced by Erfan al-Hiyali.

In late 2017, Abadi declared victory against ISIS and its bloody chapter in Iraq’s history was presumably closed. Today, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is trying to piece together a new government. Similar to his predecessors, however, he stumbled at the hurdle of naming the interior and defense ministers. The disputes over these portfolios remain the same: inter-Sunni disputes over the defense portfolio and inter-Shiite disputes over the interior.

ISIS chief Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi is not in the habit of waiting too long. It is true that he has carried out sporadic attacks over the past year, but none of them have spurred the political powers in Iraq to set aside their differences. The latest bombing in Mosul on Thursday reflects the poor security measures in place in Iraq. This time, however, observers believe that action should be taken before ISIS rears its ugly head and exploits the political impasse.

Former Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi warned that the security situation “is very dangerous in wake of the current political atmosphere.”

The local administration’s voice is being ignored and security leaderships are acting without coordinating with each other, he explained to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Sunni leaderships no longer play a role and the dispute with the Kurdistan Region is a ticking time bomb,” he added.

“Given these conditions, any side, no matter how weak they are, can exploit the security in the region,” he warned.

Security expert Fadel Abou Ragheef said that the western Nineveh desert is vast and therefore, a prime location for ISIS to take root.

The group has carried out different terrorist attacks, he acknowledged, adding, however that this is not a reflection of a “major security collapse or breach.”

“The situation is still under control and it will be difficult for the group to execute attacks that could alter the balance of power,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Armed groups expert Hisham al-Hashemi differed with Abou Ragheef’s view, saying that the southern and western cities of Nineveh are prime locations that are attractive to the terrorists.

These locations are suitable for infiltrating nearby regions that lead to Mosul, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He warned that the security situation there could eventually collapse, giving ISIS the opportunity to re-emerge in Nineveh.

He explained that the regions south and west of Mosul extend to southern Anbar. They also extend to Salaheddine in the east, the open Syrian borders in the west and Kurdistan in the north. Thousands of kilometers are open land and many villages are abandoned, leaving them vulnerable to ISIS. From those locations, the terrorists can easily infiltrate inhabited villages and even city outskirts.

“ISIS is trying to obstruct the understanding and coordination reached between the joint command and Popular Mobilization Forces with the local tribes,” Hashemi went on to say.

ISIS has started to up its operations, he revealed. It has started to resort to car bombings, sniper attacks and kidnappings.

“Given this reality, the Iraqi command has to continue to pursue remaining ISIS members based on intelligence efforts and cooperation and coordination with tribal and local authorities,” he stressed.

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