Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni is already looking forward to after the battle. «The final defeat of Daesh, the self-proclaimed Caliphate, is within reach,» he said. However, we cannot make the same mistakes of the past, we must avoid acts of vengeance and go beyond the simple military dimension of the fight against terrorism».
Minister, how long will it take to take back Mosul?
“The parable of Daesh, which began in the summer of 2014, could end in the next few months. On certain conditions.”
Also in Syria? An on what conditions?
“In a couple of weeks or months there might also be the liberation of Raqqa on the agenda. With two warnings. The first is that the defeat of Daesh depends on how the campaign is conducted over the next few weeks. The second is that the end of Daesh will be a historic defeat for terrorism but it won’t mean the end of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.”
Will new conflicts explode between Kurds, Sunnis and Shias?
“The main point is that the end of Daesh is possible if we avoid making the mistakes repeatedly committed over the past two years. I discussed this with Brett McGurk, President Obama’s Special Envoy in Iraq, on Friday: this is not a blitzkrieg aimed at hoisting a flag in the main square of Mosul and possibly tomorrow in Raqqa. It is more of a liberation and stabilisation campaign which is bound to last many months and which requires great political and diplomatic balance as it will inevitably come across quite a few hurdles. Not only by the nearly 4,000 terrorists now in Mosul but also political hurdles.”
So, what are the mistakes to be avoided?
«In Fallujah and Ramadi we were imposed decisions inspired by a sectarian line of reasoning which excluded the Sunni representatives from governing the liberated cities and even left the field open to widespread acts of vengeance or violence. Result: Ramadi was retaken by Daesh and was finally liberated only many months later. The Iraqi government has now clarified that the regular forces will lead the operations and that a military victory is not enough: they need an inclusive system of governance. What needs to be done is not authorise acts of vengeance but reassure the Sunni population. Thanks to this policy, a million Sunnis who had escaped from Tikrit, Ramadi and Fallujah have come back.”
So, the Sunnis must not be excluded from the government?
“Not only; the Sunnis must become major players in the regions of Nineveh and Anbar. Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi has addressed several messages to the Sunni community to limit the humanitarian spinoffs of the battle of Mosul, where the displaced people are already 19,000. After escaping from war and from the atrocious acts of violence of Daesh, we must avoid that people flee Mosul because they are worried about possible anti-Sunni sectarian violence.”
Will Iraq be divided up in pieces?
“Once they retake control of most of the territory, Iraqi authorities will have to consider that traditions, cultures and religions, in a Country swept by over a quarter of a century of war, deserve to be awarded some form of autonomy. Naturally, without putting in doubt Iraq’s unity.”
Who is responsible for avoiding tension?
“I am referring to the role of important countries like Turkey, the Kurdish forces and the Shia militias. The conditions necessary to obtain a feasible military victory are linked to the political and diplomatic strategy, not blitzkrieg-like, but a medium-term campaign combining the concepts of liberation and stabilisation. Italy can play a role in this: with 1,300 troops, we are second only to the United States. We do not fight on the ground but we have trained 14,600 Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers. And we lead the stability and security operations in the liberated zones of Anbar with a unit of the Carabinieri.”
Is there a risk of a new cold war with Russia also extending to the Middle East?
“We are all aware of the risks generated by the tension with Russia but nobody should associate this tension with a completely different epoch like that of the Cold War. Italy is working to achieve a clear stand with respect to Russia, without however ever putting aside the possibility of dialogue.”
Will Turkey try to create a Buffer State in Iraq?
“Turkey is playing a key role but its presence must be coordinated with the strategies of the American-led coalition. There are some situations, like in the little town of Tal Afar, in which the coalition is trying to avoid the outbreak of tension between the Shia popular forces and Turkey. Even more delicate will be the balance shown by the coalition after the liberation of Raqqa.”
Could jihadists flee to Europe?
“Common sense tells us that putting an end to the macabre story of Daesh will be a major turning point. The roots of fundamentalist terrorism will not be eliminated in one go and the threat could arise again in different forms. We are in for bad times if we underestimate the symbolic, economic and military appeal of a terrorist group that defines itself as a State. Its end will reduce the threat of terrorism everywhere in the world, even if it is not completely eliminated.”
Will anything change after the U.S. elections of 8 November?
“Obama is the president that defeated al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden and, in the past few months, has also paved the way to defeating Daesh; it will still take a long time – certainly not hours but days and months – but I am certain that the American administration will continue this liberation and stabilisation campaign.”
Who would be better, Trump or Clinton?
“Everybody knows whom I and the Democratic Party prefer. However, the campaign to free the world of the threat of Daesh is out of doubt, whatever the election outcome will be.”