BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Military plans to retake Mosul from Islamic State are ready and the northern Iraqi city might be recaptured before the end of the year, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said on Friday.
The army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, will conduct the offensive but the role of pro-government militias has not been determined, Massoud Barzani said in an interview with France 24.
“There have been multiple meetings between leaders of the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army. They have finally agreed on the military plan and the role of each side,” Barzani said, without providing details.
Barzani said the timing for launching the push on Mosul, 360 km(240 miles) north of Baghdad, had not been determined, though Iraqi commanders have said it could begin as soon as late October.
Mosul, the largest city in Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, was taken by the jihadists in 2014 when Iraqi security forces dropped their weapons and fled.
Since then, peshmerga have entrenched in its eastern and northern outskirts while retrained Iraqi forces have advanced to Qayyara, 60 km south of the city, last month.
Mosul, a mosaic of diverse ethnic and sectarian communities, poses challenges to war-planners, including which forces will participate in the battle and how the city will be governed after.
Barzani said Shi’ite Muslim militias and a Sunni militia run by former Mosul governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, which have pledged to take part in the offensive, had not yet been given a role.
“Regarding the Hashid Shaabi or the Hashid Watani, there must be an understanding between these forces and the residents of the Mosul area. Until now that does not exist,” he said.
The Hashid Shaabi is an government umbrella for mostly Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, and the Hashid Watani is made up mainly of former local police and volunteers from Mosul who have been trained by Turkey.
Asked if the city could be retaken by the end of 2016, Barzani said: “It is possible, but the post-liberation period must be prepared for.”
“It is very important for us to have certain guarantees that this tragedy will not be repeated in the future,” he said. “So we must agree with Baghdad and with the local people as well, how can we ensure that what happened will not be repeated?”
Reporting by Saif Hameed; Editing by Angus MacSwan