By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
Security forces are overextended across Iraq due to increased ISIS attacks and provincial security issues. ISIS continues to strategically open offensives in northern and western Iraq in order to stretch ISF forces thin and reduce their ability to retake terrain. ISIS continues to attack ISF positions around Qayyarah and its airbase, rebuffing ISF attempts to advance northwards, and near Rutba in western Anbar, which required the ISF to deploy additional forces on September 9. Meanwhile, ISIS continues to launch spectacular attacks in central Baghdad, despite the ISF’s concentration in the capital and surrounding belts. Ongoing tribal conflict up in southern Iraq has further tied up the ISF, recently requiring ISF units to deploy to Maysan Province on September 13. ISIS’s ability to stretch the ISF thin across Iraq weakens the ISF’s ability to focus on recapturing remaining ISIS-held terrain and also magnifies the burden of providing ad hoc security in the southern provinces. These forces in Baghdad and western Anbar will continue to be tied up by ISIS attacks or held in reserve for force protection, making them unavailable for efforts in Mosul.
The Coalition continues to proceed on a schedule that assumes the Mosul operation will launch before the end of the 2016. U.S. troops arrived at the Qayyarah airbase on September 17 in order to provide logistical support to rehabilitate the base as a launching pad for Mosul. Coalition partners Netherlands, Belgium, and Finland announced that they would expand or extend their mission in Iraq to support the Mosul operation. However, the shortage of Iraqi security forces will prevent this timeline if security forces cannot leave their posts in western Anbar or Baghdad in order to participate in Mosul. This shortage could leave openings for unsavory actors, such as Iranian-backed Shi’a militias, to join the operation. The Coalition will need to rapidly generate a sizeable and effective force if it wishes to stay on track to retake Mosul in 2016 with forces it can rely on to hold the city afterwards.