Article by Maurin Picard of Figaro published Jan 27, 2016
When the first armored jeeps Hummer hit the sand-colored stars and stripes of the United States entering Mosul, in this day of April 2003, the deserted streets exude an atmosphere of end of reign. The shops closed in haste, abandoned police stations, government ministries open to all winds. The population earth, concerned about the events. Saddam Hussein has just collapsed under the blows of the US military engaged in a crusade “against terror” post-September 11, 2001. None of this will concern General David Petraeus, head of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States, which received the order to occupy and pacify Mosul, the second largest city. The task in this Nineveh province (northwest) predominantly Sunni and loyal to the former Baathist government, is a challenge. Petraeus will take up the challenge, turning its builders men, winning the battle “hearts and minds”, unique in Iraq under US tutelage in 2003.
Thirteen years later, the 101st Division has received orders eerily echoing the recent past, still fresh in our memories. On January 13, 2016, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the famous “Screaming Eagles” that they walked away in Iraq. Final destination: Mosul, in the hands of the Islamic state since 10 June 2014. Objective: “Advise and Assist”, train and mentor Iraqi regular troops and Kurdish peshmergas supposed to reclaim the capital of Nineveh, and “tackle the cleaning of territories that the EI control in Iraq and Syria. ”
Some 1,800 men of the 101st Airborne will be deployed at the end of February in Iraq, according to a specific word order: they are not there to fight. Barack Obama say again to the attention of the American public: no “boots on the ground (ground forces),” not hear the boys involved in conventional military offensives. Place the Iraqis, only able to reclaim their country. “The Iraqi and Kurdish peshmergas you are going to train, advise and assist have already proved their determination and, increasingly, their skills, insisted Carter. But these soldiers need you to build on these successes. We must be careful not to Americanize the conflict. ”
Impossible to ignore almost dialectical contradiction Washington 1800 US paratroopers will soon be hard at work, but America refuses to commit ground troops. “Troops on the ground? But there are already 3500, ground troops! “Retorted Ashton Carter in Davos on January 22, referring to the number of” advisors “already present at the bedside of Iraqi government forces. To regain Mosul, the Pentagon suggests, it will send the boys, not just the handful of special forces already deployed. This is a recent change of paradigm, expressed in Paris on 20 January by Carter: to eradicate the “cancer” jihadist, we will have to engage in conventional forces in large numbers.
“The Iraqi and Kurdish peshmergas you are going to train, advise and assist have already proved their determination and, increasingly, their skills”
The US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
The definitive recapture of Mosul, Baghdad and Washington planned for 2016, should see the Americans take part in the fighting on the frontline. The 101st would ideally fulfill this dual role train units to take possession of Mosul in the wake of “forces-against terrorists.” And, if necessary, fight alongside them. “Ramadi was a schoolyard brawl. Mosul is the final of the heavyweight boxing championship, “nevertheless warns Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a consultant for Fox News. In Ramadi, the forces against terrorist-backed Shiite militias have stepped over seven months to finally win 700 jihadi fanatics. Everything indicates that Mosul will be a different story, with up to 2,000 enemy fighters entrenched in a major city like Paris, street fights that could turn into a Middle Eastern Stalingrad.
So the military reconquest of Mosul will be the first step in the new anti-Daech strategy detailed by Ashton Carter. Remains the second step: the pacification of the city. Large program, judging by the past two years. Since the fall of Mosul in the hands of jihadists, 1.8 million people were plunged into a dark night as the flag of the “Caliphate” proclaimed, enduring executions and looting, rationing, curfews, temporary power cuts, d ‘final Internet. Vibrionnante once a city, now a prisoner of religious madmen and criminals licensed.
The nostalgia of the “groundwork”
Overseas, the elders of the 101st Airborne Division following the events, dismayed. “The fall of Mosul in the hands of the Islamic state was a tragedy for me, who thought back to all those men who served with me in this area in 2003-2004, when there were so many promises, says one David Petraeus terse Figaro. I said as we redonnions hope to a people who had lost hope. “Since his spacious Manhattan office in New York, the one that the inhabitants of Mosul had dubbed the” King David “has swapped the tinsel for those four-star general consultant of a firm of investment, but it retains a nostalgia for the “substantive work” made in Mosul in 2003-2004. He remembers the talent of its multilingual university, the reopening of shops and schools, the direct relationship established with many residents, when it was a point of honor to walk without a helmet or body armor each morning in crowded streets of downtown. “King David” displays on the walls of his headquarters a compelling reminder to his young officers, “What have I done for Iraqis today?”
“Each of my men put his talents to work, tells David Petraeus. We receive no civilian assistance: the State Department has been conspicuously absent, as are other US institutions. We will still hold the first free elections in Iraq. A governor is elected, Ghanim al-Basso, a reconciliation commission set up, also the first in the country. “But sectarian hatreds are released in post-Saddam Iraq. And “rebirth” too fast Mosul Sunni, educated and modern, displeases the fundamentally new Shi’ite power. Applications renovation, financing, appointments are mercilessly rejected. The governor, Ghanim al-Basso, threw in the towel in February 2004, when the 101st Airborne and “builders” Petraeus pack up.
Winning the peace is another matter
The dark Nineveh province in chaos. The Sunni insurgency takes over, cornaquée by the bloodthirsty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, magnified by Daech since. In July 2004, the successor of al-Basso is killed in an ambush. In November, after running many agents, the head of the municipal police and most of its 5,000 men spend in the camp of the insurrection with arms and baggage. The chaos will last ten years. Mosul is pacified in 2008, cleared of insurgents last but definitely not rallied to the central authority of Shiite Nouri al-Maliki. Is that why the city again falls like a ripe fruit in 2014? As in 2004, the armed forces who defended it, this time 30,000 men, took to their heels before 1500 attackers.
“The fall of Mosul in the hands of the Islamic state was a tragedy for me, who thought back to all those men who served with me in this area for 2003-2004»
General David Petraeus
Here 101st Airborne at work, once again. When the offensive will begin, Iraqi troops will attack from the south, the peshmergas from the north, close to the encirclement and cut retirement jihadists to the Syrian border. Winning the war, the US elite troops can do. Winning the peace is another matter. The “builders” 101st Airborne know that this challenge is nothing like that of 2003, it will regain the confidence of the inhabitants sandwiched between Raqqa and Baghdad, hostages of the complex political chessboard and sectarian Iraq . “I am reasonably worried, confesses Craig Whiteside, former officer of the 101st and professor of international politics at the Naval War College in Monterey (California). The EI has successfully established without firing a shot in Mosul, draining wide support among the population and cuddling an extensive network of sympathizers “made in 2004 by Zarqawi, despite the death of it two years later. “If they were able to place in Mosul set cutting and holding an iron fist since it is not by chance or by accident,” says Whiteside, who does not seem to anticipate the popular jubilation entry of Iraqi-US forces in the city.
This time, moreover, it will be without the ingenious “King David”: a time threatened a heavy prison sentence for having communicated to her biographer of documents classified “confidential” from the time he headed the CIA in 2011 -2012, the old “peacemaker” Mosul is the subject of an administrative demotion procedure, on the express request … Ashton Carter. The Obama Administration, unwillingly plunged back into the Iraqi quagmire, wants to cut the last ties with the remains of the George W. Bush era, when America still believed possible to achieve lasting stability in the “land of the two rivers “.