Iraqi forces and their allies have finally completely surrounded Mosul, which is an important landmark in the struggle to eliminate Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). The last link was covered by the Shiite militia known as Hashed Al Shaabi, who had captured the road linking Tal Afar to Sinjar, west of Mosul, and linked up with Kurdish forces already in the region.
This means that Daesh’s supply line from Mosul to its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa has been cut, which leaves the militant forces left in Mosul completely isolated. The eventual victory for the government forces seems likely, but they will have a brutal struggle to recapture Mosul. The 10,000-odd Daesh fighters have had two and-a-half years to lay booby traps, prepare for this defence and be ready to make the government lose as much as possible in the struggle.
The alliance of pro-government forces needs to be carefully managed by the Baghdad government. The Kurds have already laid claim to large swathes of territory, extending their control outside their traditional areas right up to the outskirts of Mosul and also totally absorbing the oil city of Kirkuk. Their military success has given them access to these territories and the comparative calm of the Kurdish Regional Government’s administration has made their rule attractive to the population, even if dangerous to the aspirations of the Baghdad government to re-impose Arab control of these areas.
This is in stark contrast to the presence of the Hashid Al Shaabi in northern Iraq, which is a major concern. These Shiite militias with Iranian backing come from south Iraq and have no direct link to the Mosul region, and they have a grim reputation for eliminating the Sunni population in large areas where they have been in action. They seem to be roaming the battlefield around Mosul with no effective control by the Iraqi armed forces.
Tens of thousands of Sunnis have fled into Tal Afar, about half into Daesh-controlled country, while others have fled north into the Kurdish areas where Iraqi humanitarian bodies have sought safe passage for them as they escaped from Shiite militias.
The military competition around Mosul between regular Iraqi forces, the Hashid Al Shaabi, and the Kurds is a grim precursor of a future political struggle to rule territory, which Baghdad cannot ignore in the excitement of fighting Daesh.