While travelling to Qayyarah, a two-hour-drive from Mosul, WION had the chance to interview Iraqi Army Major General Najim al-Jabouri soon after he met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad. He is the commander of the Nineveh Operations, an offensive that aims to liberate south of Mosul. He is in-charge of the Mosul offensive and currently leads approximately 25,000 men.
WION: How are you preparing for the Mosul operation?
General al-Jabouri: Our troops are ready to attack Islamic State in Mosul and retake the city. The coalition forces gave us good training, equipped us with modern equipment. We are just waiting for the prime minister to give us the order to attack. We are confident about the battle since we have liberated many cities, important cities in Nineveh (governorate), including Qayyara a few weeks ago. Right now, we are now coordinating with the Peshmerga (Kurdish military forces). Some brigades have already moved to the station areas near Mosul.
WION: How long will the battle last? And do you expect a large presence of IS fighters?
al-Jabouri: I think IS is not as strong as it was two months ago or six months ago. They have lost many good fighters. Many of them were killed, many of them got injured and many of them escaped.
IS is different from Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda believed in a cause but the majority of IS jihadists are like the mafia — they look for money, they look for women, they look for power.
A few months ago when we began the battle in Qayyarah, we faced strong fighters. The foreigners were especially strong. But the group has weakened. Now, we hardly lose our men even during intense gunfights. The last battle in Qayyarah, four or five days ago, we killed 66 people of theirs and lost not even a single one of ours. Also, we hardly face any foreign fighters anymore.
The local fighters are not that good because they are only interested in earning money. Such attitude is destroying the moral of IS.
The loss in Qayyarah was also financially damaging for IS. They are losing $1 million every day since they lost out in Qayyarah. When they were here, they stole oil and sold about a hundred trucks of it every day.
WION: How important will local support be in your battle for Mosul?
al-Jabouri: Their (residents of Mosul) support is very vital. Even the strongest security force will be unable to defeat IS if they don't get support from the locals.
If the locals did not give IS a safe haven, it would have been impossible for them to grow in strength.
In my view, people were unhappy with the security forces in Iraq. This was one of the main reasons for IS to thrive in the area. We worked very hard to change this relationship, we built many bridges between us and the people. You are free to go to Qayyarah and to other villages and ask the people about us. Now, locals support us whenever we fight the IS. This will build the future of this area and Iraq.
WION: Will Shia militia organisation Hal Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi have any role during the Mosul Operation?
al-Jabouri: Maybe we will need their support. Only the commander-in-chief (the Iraqi prime minister) can decide on such matters. But they will not enter the city if we need them. They will have to go to the desert to cut off IS' supplies. But the battle will be mainly fought by the Iraqi army, the Iraqi counter-terrorism forces and the police. The Peshmerga will help us as well.
WION: What do you make of Turkey's role?
al-Jabouri: About the Turkish … I am a military commander, these are issues concerning the central (Iraqi) government and Turkey, but as an Iraqi … we don’t need boots on the ground here. We don't even need the coalition forces. We depend on them for training, for advice and for launch air strikes on IS positions. If Turkey is part of the coalition forces, it works for me. If they do what the coalition forces say, I don't think there would be a problem. But we do not need anybody to act independently.
WION: Are you afraid that after Mosul, IS will launch suicide attacks across Iraq?
al-Jabouri: They do not have the capability to do such things.
WION: Do you plan to liberate Hawija before Mosul?
al-Jabouri: Hawija is not under my command, but I think the government is thinking about it. Mosul is the head of a snake, the last castle for the IS. But I think if we had retaken Mosul earlier, even before Ramani and before every other area, we would have wiped out Daesh (Islamic State) much earlier.
WION: So you think the strategy was wrong?
al-Jabouri: No, this is my view. I think the head of the snake is Mosul because it is a big city, it has good foundation, many factories and many resources. IS in Iraq and even in Syria rely on resources coming from Mosul.
WION: If IS fighters manage to escape Iraq and enter Syria, will the Iraqi army follow them and help Syrian forces fight them?
al-Jabouri: If my commander-in-chief gives me an order, I will follow them in Syria, in Nigeria, everywhere.