Iraqi forces are making plans for a push into Mosul, Iraq’s second city that was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters six month ago, Iraq’s Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Al Jazeera.
The Iraqi government has set up an operations room for the liberation of the city, Zebari said, adding that success of the offensive depended on coordination between Iraqi forces and the US-led international coalition.
Zebari, who is from Mosul, said he did not agree with predictions by US officials that the fight against ISIL could take years.
“Contrary to what many people think, I don’t think this will be a long drawn-out battle,” the finance minister said.
In November, Deputy Governor of Mosul Nuraddin Kaplan said, “The sooner the operation begins the better. The more time passes, the harder it will become.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf in Baghdad, Zebari said the government should do everything in its power to persuade Sunnis alienated by government policies to turn against the armed group.
“I think the key is Mosul. It was in Mosul where the Iraqi security forces collapsed; it was in Mosul where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate and it will be in Mosul where they should be defeated – and where we, the Iraqis, and the coalition should declare victory over them,” Zebari said.
The finance minister said that Kurdish Peshmerga forces already made “great advances” in the northern and western areas around of the city.
‘Richest armed group’
After an accounting of banks under ISIL control, Zebari told Al Jazeera that ISIL is now believed to have looted about $500m from Mosul, Tikrit and other cities, saying it was “the richest [armed] group in the world”.
He said Iraq was trying to crack down on ISIL financing, including oil smuggling.
“They control a number of oil fields in Syria and Iraq and they smuggle this oil overland through trucks, through middlemen to Turkey or towards other countries,” Zebari said.
“The air campaign targets these facilities in Syria and in northern Iraq in order to deprive them of this revenue but they have enormous financial resources; they are paying recruits good salaries, better than what we can afford to pay ours,” he added.
“And this is one element of the strength of this organisation. It’s not purely an underground terrorist organisation. It has an agenda it wants to control. It wants to rule.”