Three Iraqi generals were brought to the Pentagon last week to hail the victory over ISIS in Mosul, but their presence also underlined the fragility of Iraqi unity going forward and the growing influence of Iran.
All three said they were aware of alleged atrocities committed by Iraqi troops in the aftermath of the defeat of ISIS in Mosul and would hold accountable those responsible.
The Kurdish officer in the group, Brig. Gen. Halgwrd Hikman Ali, indicated a possible rift in the fragile united front presented by the various Iraqi forces in the nine-month siege of Mosul.
He said the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) was committed to holding an independence referendum on Sept. 25, which will likely be a vote to separate from the Baghdad central government. Following the vote, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces would concentrate on protecting the region, he said.
"As for us, as the Peshmerga forces, we protect the Kurdistan region, and our mission is basically about protecting our borders," Hikman Ali said.
In anticipation of a breakup, Jan Kubis, the United Nations special envoy for Iraq, told the Security Council Monday that the KRG and the Baghdad government should immediately begin talks on sharing oil revenue and resolving territorial disputes.
Brig. Gen Saad Maad, a spokesman for Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, said there would be an increased role for the mostly-Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces, numbering about 100,000 and backed by Iran, in border security and in policing areas cleared of ISIS.
The PMF militias are led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. State Department. Al Muhandis has also been described as an advisor to Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Qods Force, which is the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
U.S. troops in the train, advise and assist role in Iraq have routinely been barred from contacts with the PMF. In the retaking of Ramadi and Fallujah last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi barred the PMF from entering the cities for fear of losing U.S. air support.
In Mosul, the PMF played a vital role along with the Kurdish Peshmerga, said Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Baghdad's Joint Operations Command.
Rasool congratulated the Peshmerga "and also the Popular Mobilization Forces. From the beginning, they were part of all of our military operations to liberate the city of Mosul."
At the Pentagon news conference last Friday, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, sought to set the tone for the three Iraqi generals by stressing unity in the continuing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
In Mosul, "All elements of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) achieved this victory together -- Iraqi army, the federal police, Peshmerga forces, local police, Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), and popular and tribal mobilization forces," Dillon said.
"However, the defeat of ISIS in Mosul does not mark the end of this evil ideology and global threat," Dillon said. "With the coalition's help, the ISF will keep the pressure on this enemy while they are on their heels and not give them a chance to rest."
The fight in Mosul against ISIS holdouts also was not over. CJTF-OIR reported that U.S. and coalition warplanes on Sunday carried out 31 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, including three in Mosul that hit two ISIS tactical units, destroyed two fighting positions and two tunnel entrances and damaged a fighting position.
Speaking through a translator, Rasool said that the main goal of the offensive against Mosul was to free its people from the grip of ISIS. "The purpose was to liberate the person, the human, before liberating the land itself. Therefore, we considered this a human victory before a victory of a location," he said.
On the alleged atrocities committed by Iraqi forces, Rasool said "we are keenly observing and following what is being published in social media outlets about the conduct of a number of our soldiers, or those who are wearing uniforms."
"If there's any violation of human rights from any force -- counter-terrorism forces, police, army -- they will be held accountable militarily, and we will be really severe," he said.