By Patrick Martin and ISW Iraq Team
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Chief, Vincent Stewart, noted that a Mosul operation was unlikely to occur in 2016, underscoring that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have far to go before being ready to recapture the city. Coalition airstrikes have been successful in assisting the ISF recapture territory from ISIS, who were largely pushed out of Ramadi’s eastern suburbs on February 9. Coalition-trained forces also opened a new front against ISIS south of Mosul. Members of the Coalition-trained 91st Iraqi Army (IA) Brigade, along with tribal fighters from Ninewa and Peshmerga forces, conducted operations southwest of Makhmur district towards Qayarrah to recapture villages from ISIS. The limited operation marks the first real operation under Ninewa Operations Command, the branch of the Defense Ministry responsible for recapturing Ninewa from ISIS. Additional Coalition-trained forces from the 15th and 16th IA Divisions are also being deployed to the area and away from other operations, indicating that the ISF has begun shifting a significant number of forces to the southern Mosul axis. However, any operation to recapture Mosul remains a long way off and will require intense Coalition assistance to recapture territory. Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdistan is witnessing a large number of protests against reduced or undelivered salaries and the weak state of the economy, a situation that is exacerbating political differences between Kurdish political parties, while weekly demonstrations against corruption and for government reform continued across southern Iraq. In addition, PM Abadi announced a cabinet reshuffle on February 9, but such an initiative will depend on the support of political blocs to have any hope of succeeding. A unilateral attempt to remove ministers without the support of political blocs could increase support for a no-confidence vote against him, as major parties will not accept PM Abadi removing their senior members from the government. Ongoing political difficulties underscore the need to strengthen Iraq’s central government and financial situation as part of any campaign to recapture territory from ISIS, as the Iraqi state and the Kurdistan Regional Government require increase Coalition and U.S. support to prevent from weakening further and fracturing.