Iraqi troops, backed by the United States, the Kurdish Peshmerga militia and a host of Shiite irregular forces and Sunni tribal fighters, have launched a much-overdue and much publicised battle to free Mosul from the clutches of the terror group ISIS.
Though initial battlefield successes have encouraged the Iraqi government and the United States to declare that they were ahead of schedule, reports yesterday indicated that the battle will go on for weeks or even months while a big question looms large over the safety of some 1.5 million civilians trapped in the city or being used as human shields by the ISIS.
As the battle continues, the humanitarian crisis, thankfully, is receiving the attention of international humanitarian agencies and the media. But what is worrying is that the refugee flow has not started in a big way yet. Just a few thousand people have fled villages in the outskirts of Mosul. UN officials say they can only accommodate 60,000 refugees whereas they expect at least 700,000 people to flee the war zone. In days to come, Mosul, the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq, will face ruthless bombardment even more severe than what Fallujah experienced in May this year.
To win a city, you have to destroy it, regardless of what happens to its civilian population. This seems to be the thinking of the military strategists of many countries nowadays. This was Russia’s policy in Chechnya – and now in Aleppo. The Americans are no better. They destroyed city after city in Iraq ahead of ground troops making their way into Iraq. The Israelis are probably the worst, as the scale of atrocities they carried out in Gaza and South Lebanon shows. The arrogant conduct their wars but not before dumping the international convention on warfare into the dustbin. Many fear that the killing of civilians in unusually large numbers in wars could soon be accepted as a norm, no matter how ghastly it is. Of course, the perpetrators write off civilian deaths due to their disproportionate military response as collateral damage or even a price worth paying for, given their ‘just’ cause or the ‘noble’ objectives they pursue.
In Mosul, the Iraqi military has dropped leaflets warning the fear-stricken civilians of things to come. They advise: “Keep calm and tell your children that it [the bombardment] is only a game or thunder before the rain… Women should not scream or shout, to preserve the children’s spirit.”
Fight ISIS one must, but there should be utmost concern for the safety of innocent civilians who have been at ISIS gunpoint for two years. Mosul’s people who are Sunni Muslims, like the ISIS, also fear the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military. In Iraq, mutual suspicion on sectarian lines is a legacy of the US invasion.
Sadly, at the final US presidential debate on Wednesday, neither Republican candidate Donald Trump nor his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton showed any concern for the people of Mosul, though Mosul was a question the moderator threw at the two contenders for the White House.
The US administration, however, has been accusing Russia and the Syrian forces of carrying out an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Syria’s Aleppo with little regard for the safety of some 250,000 people trapped in the conflict zone.
With the safety of civilians being the least of the concerns of the advancing armies, the Mosul operation appears to be moving according to an American script. More than liberating Mosul or uniting the city and the rest of the Nineveh province with Iraq, the Americans appear to be in the campaign with the aim of achieving a much bigger military objective linked to Syria.
This is not what Donald Trump thinks. Trump responding to the question on Mosul during the debate on Wednesday suggested that the US-backed operation was aimed at making Clinton the President.
“The only reason they did it is because she’s running for the office of president. They want to look tough. They want to look good,” he said.
In response, Clinton said, “I’m just amazed that he seems to think that the Iraqi government and our allies and everybody else launched the attack on Mosul to help me in this election... But that’s how Donald thinks, you know, he’s always looking for some conspiracy.”
Trump may be wrong here, but he raised a valid point when he asked why there was no element of surprise in the military operation. He said this had allowed the ISIS to flee. Though Trump saw the publicity hype before the battle as a political move, the bigger picture may be strategic. It appears the US military wants to drive out the ISIS from Mosul and force the group into Syria to fight the Syrian regime.
Analysts who give a counter-narrative to mainstream media viewpoints believe the ISIS was created in 2011under the leadership of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi – by foreign secret service outfits with the connivance of the US – to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
But the group became more ambitious when it got more men, munitions and money, and turned its focus on Iraq. In January 2014, it captured Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq’s Anbar province and in June that year Mosul came under its control. Clinton emails released by whistleblower website Wikileaks confirm that the Democratic Party Presidential candidate knew all along that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding ISIS. The question dominating the media should have been: ‘Why did not Hillary let the American people know that the two US allies have been funding a terrorist group?”. The question has been sneakily displaced from public space by Trump’s sexcapades which the Clinton campaign team has been feeding the media.
Now it appears the US had enough of ISIS in Iraq. Syrian military analysts suspect the real purpose behind the US involvement in the battle for Mosul is to drive ISIS cadres into the Syrian theatre and force the Syrian troops to fight ISIS in the eastern regions bordering Iraq. This will be an added strain on the Syrian and Russian troops and could weaken their resolve to capture the strategic city of Aleppo. With the border between Iraq and Syria being controlled by ISIS, many analysts believe that a large number of ISIS members have already escaped to Raqqa, the terror outfit’s capital in Syria.
Hasan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Shiite militia group Hezbollah which is fighting alongside Syrian troops in Syria was one of those suspicious of the US motive. In a speech to mark Ashoora, Nasrallah drew the attention of the Iraqis to what he saw as the American design in the battle for Mosul. He told the Iraqis, especially the thousands of Shiite militia who have joined the battle to liberate Mosul, that if they did not defeat ISIS in Mosul, they would be obliged to move to eastern Syria to fight the terrorist group there.
Probably in anticipation of this scenario, Syrian troops and their Russian allies are trying to finish off their battle in Aleppo before the fall of Mosul.