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With Islamic State Routed From Kobani, Kurds Eye Mosul

A senior Kurdish official says the Islamic State's defeat in Kobani should smash its aura of invincibility.

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When Islamic State fighters swept across northern Iraq last summer and seized the city of Mosul, the group gained an aura of invincibility. Now, having been routed from the Syrian border city of Kobani, the extremists’ aura has been smashed and their enemies are eyeing an attack on Mosul, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official said Tuesday.

Mosul, which sits on the edge of the northern Iraqi region known as Kurdistan, was overrun by the Islamic State last June. Kurdish security forces are now closing in on Mosul, and have reached its outskirts, said Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government. On Saturday, Kurdish troops fired rockets into the city.

But to take Mosul, the Kurdish forces known as the Peshmerga need help. Mosul is mostly comprised of Sunni Arabs, and is located in disputed territory that Kurds have also claimed as their own. To defeat the Islamic State, the Kurds must avoid the perception of arriving as a conquering army, Hussein said.

“To control the Arab side of Mosul, the Kurds need a partner to do that. That needs to be an Arab force,” Hussein told Foreign Policy in an interview.

Currently, it’s envisioned for the Arab-dominated Iraqi Army to partner with the Peshmerga. It’s unclear how prepared the Iraqi Army is for the mission, and Hussein himself was uncertain how efforts are proceeding to improve the force.

Events in Kobani, where about 150 Peshmerga forces — the military arm of the Iraqi Kurdistan government — have been assisting the ground campaign, have at least helped lay the psychological groundwork for that assault. “This myth that ISIS is not defeatable has been broken,” Hussein said in a Tuesday phone interview.

While acknowledging that seizing Mosul from the militant group will be all but impossible for Kurdish fighters alone, Hussein said the Islamic State’s presence on the doorstep to Iraqi Kurdistan represents a “nightmare.” It was there, Hussein said, that the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed a caliphate, and retaking that city is both symbolically and militarily important in the effort to roll back the Islamic State’s territorial gains.

The Kurdish recapture of Kobani, meanwhile, represents a significant victory for the U.S.-backed effort to repel the Islamic State using a combination of American-led airstrikes and backing for local troops on the ground. According to U.S. Central Command, in the 24 hours between 8 a.m. Sunday and 8 am. Monday local time, U.S. and coalition forces carried out 17 strikes near Kobani targeting Islamic State fighters.

Now, the flag of the People’s Protection Units flies in the hills of Kobani.

-/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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