By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
Outgoing Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) Commander Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland gave his final briefing on August 10 where he discussed the pace of operations to retake Mosul. Gen. MacFarland remarked that the fast pace of operations to retake Mosul “is not a bad problem to have,” downplaying humanitarian concerns that the Iraqi Government will be ill-prepared to handle the wave of refugees from Mosul, which is estimated to have nearly one million still residing in the city. An accelerated timeline for Mosul may also limit how many forces are prepared for operations to retake and hold the city, as Gen. MacFarland stated that the holding force alone would require “thousands” of police forces, but that only a portion had been generated so far. The quickened timeline is likely a result of political pressure on both the U.S. Government, in the wake of a presidential election, and the Iraqi Government, as Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s position remains tenuous. The pace may also be an effort to preclude Popular Mobilization participation in operations in northern Iraq and particularly in Mosul. The militias may perceive stalled operations as invitation to lend support, despite Coalition, Kurdish, and Ninewa officials’ objections to their presence. U.S. Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk met with senior security and political leaders in Baghdad and Arbil from August 11 to 13 to touch on force composition in Mosul, as the Coalition will continue to try and set the terms of militia participation in Ninewa as the operation for Mosul nears.
PM Abadi improved his credibility in the Iraqi Government when the Council of Representatives (CoR) approved five ministers, including for the coveted position of Oil Minister, on August 15 in a partial Cabinet reshuffle. The ministers are career technocrats, and the extent of their political loyalties remains unknown. The ease in which the ministers were approved suggests that PM Abadi had secured the support of political parties prior to the CoR session, in comparison with the massive blow-back in April when he attempted to pass a similar roster of ministers. It is unclear, however, what deals PM Abadi made to secure these reforms. Former PM Nouri al-Maliki and the Reform Front did not protest the reshuffle, even though he had the support base within the CoR to undermine the vote. Maliki may be focused on guaranteeing support within the CoR to dismiss Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi rather than distancing possible allies by frustrating attempts for reforms. Obeidi, whom Maliki unsuccessfully tried to dismiss in April 2015, may face a vote of no-confidence on August 23.