Report: Iraq’s Al-Hashd Al-Watani Forces; Troublemaker for Mosul Liberation?
AhlulBayt News Agency - Atheel al-Nujaifi who was the governor of Mosul at the time of fall of the Iraqi northern city to ISIS terror group and who is currently based in Erbil and has formed a militant group dubbed al-Hashd al-Watani (Arabic for National Mobilization) in an interview with the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph has talked about his views on ISIS terrorist group and the prospective relations of Iraq’s Sunnis as well as the Mosul city with the country's central government. Major points of his remarks are as follows:
“Stay of Mosul under the rule of ISIS is better than liberation of the city at the hands of a Shiite army. Some Mosul residents seek liberation at any expense but a majority of the city people believe that remaining under the rule of the terrorist group is better than liberation by the Shiite forces. In 2014, ISIS took control of Mosul because the people there did not feel the central government as their legal representative. They observed the Iraqi army as an occupying force. The idea of an Islamic caliphate in Mosul led by Sunnis is attractive to the residents of Mosul. Although life under ISIS is difficult due to the prisons and lashing, however, Mosul made some progresses. ISIS brought about de-centralization to the country. The future of Mosul is not in the hands of Baghdad’s politicians. We agree with some ISIS’ measures while come against others.”
Atheel al-Nujaifi in past few years has won approval of the Sunni Muslims in Mosul and was appointed governor of the northern city by the provincial council. With capture of the city on June 10, 2014, by ISIS terrorists, he like many other city officials and military commanders has left the ISIS-held city to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan region, choosing the new residence as his center of activity since then. He enjoyed support of Kurdistan Democratic Party and the regional government of Kurdistan.
His brother Osama al-Nujaifi also is a major figure of Sunnis in Baghdad’s government and politics. He is active as member of parliamentary Sunni coalition Mutahedun Alliance and Union of Iraqi Forces. Osama al-Nujaifi held the post of speaker of the parliament of Iraq before the current speaker Salim Al-Jubouri took over the post.
In past two years, Atheel al-Nujaifi has made efforts to attract foreign support and aids and with help of Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdish region’s government to form a political and military force all to, as much as he would be able, seize the power in Mosul and Sunni-inhabited areas in a bid to block return of Baghdad’s central government to post-ISIS Mosul. To this end, al-Nujaifi along with Rafi al-Issawi, the former finance minister who is wanted by the country’s judicature, visited the US in 2015. During their meetings with the US government's officials and the Congress lawmakers, the two demanded arming the Sunni tribes to battle ISIS in Sunni provinces. They also urged Washington’s backing for establishment of an autonomous Sunni region which included the Sunni provinces.
Before meeting with the US President Barack Obama in Washington, al-Issawi said that “the significant issue for the time being is pushing ISIS out of Mosul, but delay in arming the Sunni tribes and the Kurds could lead to deteriorated conditions especially in Al Anbar and Mosul.” A statement issued by al-Issawi’s office at that time noted that the discussion in the US focused on finding instant solutions for the Sunni provinces.
Kuwait’s daily Al-Qabas in an analysis on the US visit of the two Iraqi politicians reported that al-Nujaifi and al-Issawi pledged cleansing Mosul and Al Anbar of ISIS militants on the condition that the US government supported the Sunni tribes, armed them and backed foundation of autonomous Sunni region. In 2015, the US Congress passed a bill upholding arming the Sunni tribes and the Kurds directly without coordination with the Iraqi central government, however, the US administration said that the support would be provided through Baghdad’s central government.
Forming al-Hashd al-Watani force
Backed directly by the neighboring Turkey, al-Nujaifi formed a militant force in the areas around Mosul which are under control of Kurdistan region government. The all-Sunni force is dubbed al-Hashd al-Watani. So far about 4,000 fighters were armed after passing training and organization courses. The number of al-Hashd al-Watani’s fighters is set to rise to 10,000.
On the other side, Turkey has deployed fully equipped and armed forces to Bashiqa military camp, which is located in a mountainous area in a town with the same name in north of Mosul. The al-Hashd al-Watani’s forces are stationed in the reconstructed military base of Zalikan in Sheykhan town near Mosul.
On May 14, the Zalikan-based forces, backed by the Kurdish forces, US-led anti-ISIS military coalition's air cover, and Turkey's Zalikan-based artillery in a military assault dubbed “Operation Wa Basher Al Saberin” took back from ISIS Kanone village in Mosul’s Bashiqa.
It appears that the recapture operation by al-Hashd al-Watani came as a showing off of power and existence of the militant group as preparations are under way by the regular Iraqi forces to liberate Mosul from ISIS terrorists.
The direct presence of Turkish military forces which is facilitated by a cooperation with Kurdistan Democratic Party, faced an opposition by the Iraqi government. But Baghdad’s objections and threats failed to yield any results and the Turkish force are still in place in Mosul vicinity.
Al-Nujaifi’s political objectives
Following capture of Mosul, Atheel al-Nujaifi was removed from his post as governor of the city by the provincial council. Now his only way into the Iraqi politics is to restore his post. He seeks pursuing the idea of autonomous Sunni region and so moving out of control of Baghdad using his political post in the city. He thinks that he can do his job better officially and legally. To this end, al-Nujaifi is holding meetings with the political, tribal and also Ba'athist leaders in a bid to form a new political movement and restore his post as governor.
All in all, it must be noted that al-Hashd al-Watani fighters are now stationed in the Kurdish region, and they would cause troubles for the government’s forces during the process to liberate Mosul. Should they takes part in recapture assault, the problems could double later for Baghdad because al-Nujaifi seeks winning a trump card with Washington and Ankara support out of upcoming Mosul operation to take advantage of victory for later political agendas.
Setting hope on US’ back-up, al-Nujaifi has said that the decision to launch the Mosul liberation assault was to be made by the US-led military coalition, rather than the country's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as a Commander-in-Chief.
The remarks came while the recent Fallujah operation showed that the major decision maker is the Iraqi government. Washington is predicted to back Baghdad government, and it is only Ankara that has embarked on an anti-Iraqi policy through siding with Kurdistan region.
Baghdad government and the Public Mobilization Forces (PMF), a key anti-terror popular force, are expected to see a showdown with al-Nujaifi’s al-Hashd al-Watani before beginning Mosul liberating assault.