OTTAWA â€” While Iraqi and coalition forces celebrate the liberation of the eastern half of Mosul, a senior Canadian military officer is admitting uncertainty over what will happen to Iraq once the rest of the city is finally freed.
“Nobody really knows what the political situation is going to look like post-Mosul, and I would suggest that includes the Iraqis,” Brig.-Gen. David Anderson told The Canadian Press in an interview from Baghdad.
“It’s kind of like a topic that’s not discussed in great depth right now, to see how it all plays out.”
Anderson leads a team of 12 international advisers inside Iraq’s defence ministry whose job is to help organize the training of Iraqi forces and plan operations.
Since October, much of his team’s attention has been on the battle for Mosul, the country’s second-largest city and the location where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared its so-called caliphate in 2014.
Iraqi forces, supported by Canadian-trained Kurdish peshmerga and a variety of militia groups, said Wednesday they had taken control of the eastern part of the city after three months of fighting.
Anderson heaped praise on the Iraqi military’s progress in Mosul, comparing it to the bloody fighting Canadian soldiers saw against the Nazis in the Italian city of Ortona in December 1943.
“This is hard slogging,” he said. “This is a huge city. And it wouldn’t be easy for any military to do. Urban operations are the hardest of all, particularly against a determined enemy, and a close-to-demented enemy that is willing to use suicide bombers.”
Anderson would not predict when the western half of Mosul will be freed, though he said efforts are underway to train 3,000 police and 15,000 “tribal forces” to provide security in the liberated areas.
Yet one of the key questions that remains unanswered is whether the various Iraqi groups fighting ISIL in Mosul and elsewhere will remain united afterward, or break along traditional ethnic and religious lines.
Part of ISIL’s early success was thanks to the anger and frustration many Sunni Muslims in Iraq felt toward the Shiite-controlled government in Baghdad, which had largely treated them as second-class citizens.
The Kurds, meanwhile, have made no secret of their desire for full independence from the country and have even threatened to keep all territory that they have liberated from ISIL, even if it is claimed by Baghdad.
International leaders have previously talked about the need to ensure Iraqis remain unified once ISIL is defeated, but Anderson said “Job No. 1” is keeping the pressure on the extremist group.
“Let’s face it, you don’t want to be planting your garden before you build your house,” he said. “It’s essential that (Mosul) be cleared before the rest of the work that can be done.”
There is reason for optimism, starting with the fact the battle for Mosul has proceeded relatively smoothly despite the involvement of not only the Iraqi military but the Kurds and Shiite militia groups.
And Anderson said a plan has been provided to the Iraqi government aimed at restoring security and stability in five key provinces over the next two years.
But victory on the battlefield in other places involving Western military support, such as Afghanistan and Libya, has been largely wiped out by the inability or failure to ensure unity after the fighting is done.
And rights groups have reported what they say are a variety of war crimes in Iraq in recent months as different groups jockey for territory and power, or use the opportunity to settle vendettas.
Anderson said western forces in Iraq have not witnessed any human rights abuses or war crimes, “and more importantly, the coalition doesn’t need to address it because the government of Iraq is.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi “made it clear that he will hold any and all transgressors to the law,” Anderson said.
“And he meant it. He will investigate any claim whatsoever. This is the Iraqis owning it.”
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Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press