The Wall Street Journal reports: Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week that the Syrian town of Shaddadi had been cleared of militants, cutting off an important supply line between Mosul and Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. Mr. McGurk [President Obama’s envoy on the fight against ISIS] described Shaddadi’s liberation and a similar victory in the Iraqi city of Sinjar as the beginning of an effort to isolate Mosul.
Over the weekend, Iraq’s military airdropped leaflets over the occupied city addressed to “the patient sons of Mosul.” “Your security forces settled the fight in Ramadi in Iraq’s favor,” it read. “Now they are readying for the biggest battle…be ready.”
But Iran, through the Shiite militias it supports, is insisting on a role in Mosul after being sidelined in recently liberated Ramadi, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. Iraq’s Sunni groups and the U.S. fear militia participation will fan sectarian tensions and expand Iran’s already sizable influence in Iraq.
Kurdish officials insist their forces should have a role in the fight to recapture Mosul, as well. But Baghdad worries the Kurds will use the fight to take territory that helps strengthen their case for an autonomous Kurdish homeland.
The jockeying among Iraq’s splintered groups, and the foreign powers that back them, have repeatedly pushed back the timetable to retake Mosul. As a result, some Iraqi and U.S. officials are now predicting the offensive won’t even begin this year. [Continue reading…]