Obama vs Baghdad on Sunni cleansing of Mosul, DEBKAfile, October 20, 2016
A major dispute on combat tactics which has sprung up between Washington and Baghdad hangs over the coalition’s Mosul offensive after three days of combat. Thursday, Oct. 20, President Barack Obama and US commanders challenged Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and is generals over a 500km long route, the Ba’aj Road, which does not appear on maps, but is pivotal for the offensive’s continuation, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources report.
This route is a kind of “Burma road” developed by the Islamic State as a private corridor between Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa, the terrorist group’s Syrian capital, during the terrorist group’s two years of control. It runs through the Iraqi town of Tal Afar before crossing into Syria and passing south of areas controlled by Syrian Kurdish militias, among which US special operations forces are embedded.
The argument flared over a demand by President Obama and US commanders that Iraqi government forces turn to the Syrian border and block the Ba’aja Road, and so cut off the ISIS fighters’ escape route from Mosul to Syria. The Americans can’t bomb the corridor because it is also packed with a stream of refugees in flight from the fighting in Mosul.
So long as it is open, ISIS is free to move thousands of fighters and masses of weapons, ammunition and other supplies between its two strongholds. This freedom of action, Obama warned Al-Abadi, would prolong the Mosul operation beyond the Dec. 20 deadline set by the coalition for its termination.
However, according to our sources, the Iraqi prime minister countered this demand with a proviso unacceptable to Washington. He was prepared to order Iraqi forces to block the Ba’aja Road provided Mosul’s entire population of 750,000 Sunni Muslims was expelled from the city. He argued that ISIS could not be defeated until then because the Sunnis were supporting and collaborating with the Islamist terrorists.
Obama fiercely opposes the mass Sunni expulsion, seeing it as an attempt by the Shiite Iraqi prime minister to cleanse Iraq’s second city of its Sunni inhabitants and using the Mosul offensive against ISIS as a pretext for such action.EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani greets Shiite fighters outside Mosul.
DEBKAfile’s sources add that Al-Abadi has found support for his side of the argument with the arrival of the Iranian Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the command posts of the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, who have not yet been thrown into the Mosul battle.
The Mosul offensive came up in the third US presidential debate in Las Vegas early Thursday. The Republican candidate Donald Trump, who appeared to have been updated on the state of play there, commented that the big winner from that offensive would be Iran.
Our military sources report that three days of combat have not brought any major coalition forces advances against ISIS. On some sectors Iraqi forces are moving forward slowly, backed by US air strikes and rocket artillery fire; on others, they are stalled by Islamist resistance.