It took the Islamic State (IS) just days to seize Mosul and large swathes of territory, yet the Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition have been planning or trying to liberate Mosul for several months.
As Iraqis were caught up in the prolonged planning for the liberation of the city and the protracted training of a new Iraqi force, IS has become more deeply entrenched.
A new battle for liberation of the city was launched in March but this has quickly stalled. If breaking down the doors of Mosul and eventually eradicating IS wasn’t difficult enough, the future of Mosul is just as precarious.
It was as much as support from disenchanted Sunnis in Iraq and coordination with various Sunni militant groups as IS firepower that helped overrun large stretches of land.
If the root causes of Sunni animosity and discontent is not addressed, then Iraq could end up at square one. The local tribes must play a crucial role in any liberation, but this is difficult when the Iraqi forces rely heavily on Peshmerga forces and Shiite Popular Mobilization Units for any chance of beating IS.
It seems great on paper, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds join forces to launch a national struggle. However, who then retains control of a predominantly and restive Sunni province?
Leaving a weak Sunni force will simply invite IS to quickly regroup and launch more attacks. Leaving a stronger force may well mean presence of Shia militias and Kurdish forces.
The Kurds have already expressed reservation at spear-heading any attack or becoming embroiled in ethno-sectarian violence.
US President Barack Obama recently vowed to clear Mosul of IS by the end of this year which would coincide with the end of his final presidential term. US defense Secretary Ash Carter was in Baghdad this week to provide support to Iraqi forces and pledge another 200 American troops to the fight against IS including deployment of Apache helicopters in combat.
As much as Washington can press Iraqis and set goals, it can only influence the picture so much. The US has been involved in training new Iraqi forces and providing weapons, as well as carrying out thousands of air strikes over the past 18 months or so.
Air strikes and months of training is no match for determined and loyal fighters on the ground. The battle for Mosul with IS deeply entrenched and with widespread booby traps is not one for the faint hearted. IS will fight for Mosul to the death and unless Iraqi forces have a deep belief in the cause, progress will be slow, indecisive and costly.
The bloody and protracted battle for villages on the outskirts of Mosul as well as other smaller cities and towns is a testament to this.
But even if Kurds, Sunni and Shiite forces combine together and are successful in their national battle for Mosul, far too much animosity, mistrust and political instability exists that will quickly extinguish any sense of triumph.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc