Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iran and Turkey will have no role in the imminent offensive to liberate Iraq’s second city Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the governor of Nineveh province told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday.
In answer to a question regarding reports of Iranian involvement in the operation, Atheel Al-Nujaifi said: “The Mosul issue is completely different in this regard because we want it to be a purely Iraqi operation with no role for anyone except Iraqi volunteers and forces from the Iraqi army.”
He added that Turkey would also not have a role in the operation, saying Ankara was only supplying the Iraqi army with weapons and ammunition, via the Ministry of Defense, “because Turkey is only dealing with official bodies, and is not supplying the Iraqi army with weapons directly.”
Turkish military cadres have also recently been involved, alongside their counterparts from the US, in training Iraqi soldiers, he said.
“Turkey is a NATO member and adheres to all the known international regulations. It is not like Iran which has a revolutionary guard whose mission is to fight outside [Iranian] borders—and then you get a figure like Gen. Qassem Suleimani appearing. As such, the Mosul operation will be a purely Iraqi operation and Turkey will have no involvement,” Nujaifi said.
Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the capital of Nineveh province, was seized by ISIS during a lightning advance across Iraq’s northwestern region last June, which saw the group capture vast swaths of territory including Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.
Since then, Iraqi forces, aided by Shi’ite volunteer units known as the Popular Mobilization forces and, reportedly, the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps headed by Gen. Suleimani, have been involved in efforts to recapture the territory seized by the extremist group.
But the Popular Mobilization forces have received staunch criticism over alleged atrocities committed against civilian Sunni populations located in battle zones.
When asked about these forces, Nujaifi seemed to suggest they too would have no involvement in the upcoming operation.
“There is an important issue here, which is that we don’t want to provide ISIS with an opportunity to stoke sectarian tensions and begin mobilizing citizens into a sectarian conflict,” he said.
“We have heard in some of the latest Friday sermons coming out of Mosul incitements against the forces led by Gen. Suleimani in Tikrit . . . So even if we were to deal with the matter with good intentions, it could still be exploited [by ISIS],” he added.
The Iranian involvement in operations against ISIS, including in Saddam’s home city Tikrit, has reportedly drawn criticism from both Washington and Ankara.
According to the Associated Press, pictures of the late Iraqi leader were removed from his tomb following its destruction on Sunday and replaced with pictures of Suleimani and other Shi’ite leaders.
Sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi will meet with President Barack Obama in April prior to the offensive, which they say will also include American involvement.
The operation to liberate Iraq’s second city has been anticipated for months and Nujaifi said “the countdown” to the operation had now begun. The operation should take place “within months or even weeks,” he said, depending on the progress of ongoing efforts to liberate Tikrit.
Iraqi officials say the recapture of Tikrit, which lies 137 miles (220 kilometers) south of Mosul, should pave the way for the Mosul operation, Iraqi officials have said.
The battle, now in its sixth day, has proven more difficult than Iraqi officials had initially anticipated, but Interior Minister Mohamed Al-Ghabban was bullish regarding the outcome on Monday, telling reporters ISIS had now “lost the battle” for the city.