The realities are much darker than what we see from outside and the people are more desperate than we think in Iraq
I was in Iraq at the dawn of the Mosul operation that started five days ago. I went to Irbil and Kirkuk, two cities of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Bashiqa town in the Mosul district of the Nineveh Governorate in Northern Iraq.
The main subject in almost every conversation was which parties would be a part of the Mosul operation, as it has been among the state leaders involved in the fight against Daesh. Iraq's Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation to recapture the city of Mosul on Oct. 16, and declared who would join the assault. The Iraqi Army and peshmerga forces - Kurdish fighters - have been the leading elements of the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition's ground operation plan while Turkish-trained Hashd al-Watani forces (Sunni forces), renamed Nineveh Guards have been holding the supporting role. Al-Abadi didn't mention the names of the Hashd al-Shaabi forces, which are Shiite militias also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), or the outlawed PKK, which is fighting against Turkey but getting indirect support from the U.S., Turkey's NATO ally, via its Syrian branch the Democratic Union Party (PYD). So they are not officially involved for now, but everyone in Iraq believes that they will not stay out of it.
If the one and only matter were to clear Mosul from Daesh elements, then this would be out of the discussion and all the elements would join, play their roles and then leave the city to the people of Mosul. However, the answer to the question of who would join the operation would also answer the question of who will take control of the city afterward. So, in reality, the key matter has not been fighting Daesh and taking back Mosul, but who will get Mosul in the end. Parties who got into a fight on who would join the operation and who would not without even wearing their diplomatic masks has revealed that the fight against Daesh is just a cover of a game that has been staged behind. While a propaganda war has been carried out through a verbal race on that who would be more successful against Daesh, the calculations for the aftermath of the operation are totally different.
The operation is said to be an offensive against Daesh in Mosul on the headlines yet the word "Daesh" holds a very minor room within the word cloud in conversations discussing the content over what is really happening in Mosul, and Iraq in general. The words "Shiite," "Sunni," "Kurd," "Arab," "Saddam," "pro-Saddam," "peshmerga," "PKK," "massacre," "death," "war" and "Iran" are the words that are uttered the most. It could be understood even after a simple word analysis that "fighting Daesh" is a curtain that is drawn over a sectarian war, to prevent anyone from seeing the reality on the ground. And it totally works. For instance, the Shiite militias commit the same number of crimes - and even more - while retaking cities, during the operations they are involved in, as Daesh did when it returned from Syria to Iraq in 2013-2014. But nobody knows about it, except the Iraqis. The news reports say that the districts like Saladin or Anbar are liberated from Daesh, but nobody says how many Sunnis are killed - including women and children - by Shiite militias in the meantime, and how many civilians become refugees.
There is no need to go round the houses. What's happening in Iraq is a sectarian war, and it is not a conflict that solely has historical and regional roots. It has been accelerated and intensified through a catalyst, Daesh, and by the hand of Iran and the U.S. Iraqi people do not discuss if Daesh will be defeated; they think it will be gone soon. What they now ask is "Will Mosul belong to the Sunnis or the Shiites?", or "Will Mosul be run by the people of Mosul or by the U.S. and Iran?" Not only the Arabs or the Turkmens but also the Kurds are asking the same question since the answer of who will get Mosul will directly affect the future of Kurdish cities as well.
That's why, the unanimous response I get when I asked people if they were hopeful of the Mosul Operation was a "No"; they said "The war with Daesh will end and a new war will start in Iraq." Almost everybody is aware of the Shiite militias strength and brutality, al-Abadi's weakness, and they think that Iran will never give up. The people in the north of Iraq also say that Mosul is the last area left for Sunnis in Iraq; when they lose it, Sunnis will have no choice in Iraq but to either become radicals inside or refugees outside of Iraq.
However, this is not the sole concern. It is believed that the Shiite militias will not stop after Mosul and turn toward Kirkuk, Duhok and even Irbil. The Hashd al-Shaabi militias already frequently imply it. The general view is that the "Shiite-Sunni" war will be followed by the "Kurd-Shiite" war afterward.
The response of a 65-year-old Kirkuk local, who fought for the Iraqi military for 27 years when I asked "Why has Iraq come to this state?" was quite saddening, actually: "I fought against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war for eight years. Now Iran is here. What did I fight for? What is the result? We toppled Saddam [Hussein]. Now one Saddam is gone, but another 80 Saddams have emerged. Every leader works for their personal gains and for their own political party's agenda. They all have masters and most of them are owned by Iran. It is the political parties that have brought Iraq to this state."
So, did the U.S. troops bring democracy to Iraq? I highly doubt it. When you are inside, the realities are much darker than what we see from outside, the people are more desperate than we think.