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Mosul beyond the battle

The Iraqi government’s initiative to free Mosul from the most brutal terrorist group the world has ever known is long overdue. But despite the enthusiastic efforts of Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Shiite militias and US Special Forces, the taking of the city will be no walk in the park because the barbarians have had more than two years to plan for this day.
Surrounding villages were cleared with relative ease but when joyous residents returned to their homes they discovered many were booby-trapped. The terrorists, believed to number in the region of 6,000 — 10,000 are greatly outnumbered by up to 30,000 military personnel, but they are skilled in asymmetric warfare.
Fighters launch surprise attacks out of tunnels; launch attacks on convoys using suicide drivers in vehicles packed with explosives and following their firing of a sulphur plant hundreds suffered breathing difficulties. Like cornered rats, their senior commanders are believed to have fled.
A serious complication was Daesh’s infiltration of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk where at the time of writing gun battles were still raging. This assault prompted a number of Kurdish fighters and Iraqi soldiers to be withdrawn from the front lines to the city known as the “Capital of Iraqi culture.”
An iconic video of a small girl, who had traversed the arid landscape with her mother for three days without water, was a poignant reminder of the hardships endured by Mosul’s imprisoned residents.
“I would like to kiss your feet,” she told Iraqi soldiers before wrapping her arms around one of her saviors.
Sadly, not all the estimated 1.6 million civilians still trapped will survive the coming street-by-street battles and bombs. The Iraq government and aid agencies are preparing camps for up to a million, many of which may not have homes to return to. A humanitarian disaster is looming.
Fast forwarding to the inevitability of Daesh’s defeat in Iraq. What is next for Iraq’s beleaguered Sunni populations angered by marginalization, oppression and a lack of effective political representation?
Moreover, when in the past towns have been cleansed of Daesh, Sunnis have been the victims of revenge attacks carried out by Shiite militias. There is a mammoth chasm of mistrust between Sunnis and Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, which is why Sunni tribes that earlier worked with Iraqi authorities to rid Al-Qaeda from the province of Al-Anbar, were initially reluctant to put their lives on the line to take on Daesh.
One answer consists of Iraq’s balkanization into three regions — Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite. This was proposed by Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist with links to Israel’s foreign minister, in his 1982 essay titled “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s.”
“Iraq rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets,” he wrote. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria...three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shiite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.”
Interestingly the neoconservatives backing President George W. Bush promoted the exact same strategy as Yinon causing some to speculate that the invasion of Iraq on false pretexts was waged to serve Israel’s interests. Ultimately, it has served Iran’s, throwing a major Arab country into Iran’s sphere of influence.
Slicing Iraq into three would result in mass relocations and the emergence of toothless, bite-sized states potentially feuding over territory and resources. The splitting of Sudan should stand as a warning. The creation of South Sudan was celebrated but has led to power struggles, bloodshed, poverty and a steady outflow of refugees.
A much better option in my view is federalization. The Kurdistan region of Iraq that is under Washington’s protective umbrella is already virtually autonomous, enjoying self-governance. The Kurdish dream of their own state is diminishing because of Turkey’s unwillingness to accept such an entity close to its own borders.
Several Iraqi Sunni politicians, including former Vice-President Osama Al-Nujaifi, have argued that a Sunni autonomous region on the lines of the Kurdish model “would grant stability and unity to Iraq...and would remedy the problems and mistakes.”
One thing is certain, if those “problems and mistakes,” caused by successive Iraqi governments which have relegated Sunnis and other sects/ethnicities to second-class citizen status, aren’t put right, the peace that hopefully reigns once the last Daesh terrorist has gone, will be short lived.

* Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist.