MUNICH, Germany — Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi on Saturday laid out a series of steps that must be taken ahead of launching an offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city,which was seized by Islamic State fighters last summer with little opposition.
During a question and answer session at the annual Munich Security Conference, al-Abadi declined to state when such a campaign might start, though U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Wall Street Journal last month that an offensive could start by spring or early summer.
Al-Abadi said there are four key conditions that must be met: Iraqi security forces must be ready and that requires delivery of more heavy arms, munitions and training; increased coordination between Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces; support from the people of Mosul, a Sunni-dominant city long suspicious of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad; and air and reconnaissance support from the U.S.-led coalition that has been bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria for months in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Al-Abadi said there were signs of growing support in Mosul, that “hearts and minds” were being won over. He estimated that a few thousand fighters in the city were poised. “The people of Mosul must be with us,” he said.
If all those conditions are met, an offensive could be launched in short order, Al-Abadi said, though he suggested it could be three to four months.
Last year, Iraq and the international community were taken by surprise when Islamic State fighters, who had gained strength and territory in neighboring Syria stormed across the border to take control of large swathes of the country. When Islamic State fighters arrived in Mosul, Iraqi forces fled and city residents welcomed the militants.
Al-Abadi said his government has taken strides to try and bring about reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites. He pointed to the recent addition of 4,000 Sunni fighters in Anbar province who have taken up the fight against the Sunni Islamic State as a sign of Iraq coming together.
“That is a huge departure from what was the case before,” he said. Al-Abadi has been under pressure to reconcile Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish populations. His predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki was accused of favoring Shiite allies and alienating Iraq’s Sunni population, which some analysts say contributed to the Islamic State fighters swift advance in Iraq as many Sunni areas welcomed them.
In the Journal interview, Austin said planning for an offensive is under way.
"If we did things alone or with some of the other allies on the ground, it could move faster,” Austin told the paper. “But the Iraqis have to do this themselves.”
Austin told the Journal that he has not yet determined whether to recommend that U.S. ground troops accompany local units pushing into Mosul, but he said the military would “do what it takes.”
While in Munich, al-Abadi said he has received new pledges of support, including what could be interpreted as a promise from Germany of arms, trainers, and high tech equipment to track down foreign fighters.
“I would quite simply say we must not lose this war,” al-Abadi said. “It is threatening the whole world at the moment.”