Posts Tagged ‘Mosul’

Aleppo almost retaken but Mosul must wait for a while

December 9, 2016

The ongoing downfall of ISIS really only began with the Russian intervention in Syria. Even in Iraq, the gradual success against ISIS only really took hold once the Russians showed the resolve in Syria. It has been a repudiation of the absence of an Obama/Kerry strategy. It has also shown quite clearly that it was the US/NATO/ France/UK/ EU/ Turkey obsession with getting rid of Assad which allowed ISIS to grow and then prevented any effective strategy against ISIS from being implemented.

Now Aleppo and its Al Qaeda/ISIS related rebel groups are on the verge of being driven out by Syrian troops with Russian support. In Mosul what was intended to be a liberation of the city – in time for a Clinton success at the US General election – has progressed much more slowly than expected. It has stalled from time to time and it may not even be complete before Obama leaves office. The retaking of Aleppo cannot strictly be compared with retaking Mosul, but it does reconfirm the differences between first, the resolve of Assad’s Syrian troops and the Iraqi army, and second, the difference between the US and Russian implementation of strategies.

Two Reuters reports today caught my eye:

Syrian army’s Aleppo advance slows, but victory in sight

The Syrian army’s advance in Aleppo slowed on Thursday but a victory was still firmly in sight after President Bashar al-Assad vowed that retaking the city would change the course of the six-year-old war. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the Syrian army, which has captured territory including Aleppo’s historic Old City in recent days, had halted military activity to let civilians leave rebel-held territory. 

The last two weeks have seen rebels driven from most of their territory in what was once Syria’s largest city, the eastern section of which the insurgents have controlled since 2012. Although there are still many rural areas in rebel hands, Aleppo is their last big urban redoubt. The prospect of its fall, following months of government gains elsewhere, has brought Assad closer to victory than at any point since the early months of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and made half of Syrians homeless.

“Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria,” Assad said, speaking in an interview with the Syrian newspaper al-Watan.

Iraqi troops pull out from Mosul hospital after fierce battle

Iraqi troops who briefly seized a Mosul hospital believed to be used as an Islamic State base were forced to withdraw from the site, but managed to establish a base for army tanks nearby after days of fierce back-and-forth fighting, residents said.

The rapid advance into the Wahda neighborhood where the hospital is located marked a change of tactic after a month of fighting in east Mosul in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.

The ferocity of the fighting reflects the importance of the army’s push from southeast Mosul towards the center, their deepest advance in a grueling seven-week offensive to crush Islamic State in Iraq’s largest northern city.

The soldiers seized Salam hospital, less than a mile (just over 1 km) from the Tigris river running through central Mosul, on Tuesday but pulled back the next day after they were attacked by six suicide car bombs and “heavy enemy fire”, according to a statement by the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces.

Coalition warplanes, at Iraq’s request, also struck a building inside the hospital complex from which the militants were firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

The soldiers involved in the action are at the spearhead of a U.S.-backed, 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi forces including the army, federal police, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly Shi’ite Popular Mobilization forces battling to crush Islamic State in Mosul.

Mosul may still take some time but that it will be retaken before too long  seems almost certain.


 

Western backed rebels/terrorists in East Aleppo are holding civilians hostage just as ISIS is doing in Mosul

October 26, 2016

The rebels and terrorists in East Aleppo are largely financed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the US and the EU. They are holding civilians hostage and as “human shields” against Assad’s forces supported by Russian air power just as ISIS is preventing civilians from leaving Mosul. The media rhetoric about ISIS and Mosul is equally applicable to East Aleppo, but the difference which changes the media narrative is that the loss of Aleppo by the Western-supported rebels would be a very visible confirmation of the failure of the US/EU strategy of fomenting regime change in Syria.

Black Photo

Virginia Senator Richard Black

The Russian view of things in this interview with Virginia Senator Richard Black makes interesting reading. Even discounting the propaganda factor, the regime-change objectives in Syria have demonstrated the shallowness and wishful thinking that has dominated the US/EU strategies.

RT:The US and its allies could order their terrorist proxies in Aleppo to allow civilians to leave, but instead use them as hostages to escalate anti-Russia rhetoric in a bid to prevent the fall of the rebel stronghold, Virginia Senator Richard Black told RT.

…… The fact is when he (John Kerry) gave that speech, he was sitting next to Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, and Saudi Arabia has funded ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Al-Nusra – which is Al-Qaeda in Syria, a coordinating group within the Aleppo pocket in East Aleppo.

They have forbidden the civilians from leaving, using the civilians as a human shield, because they know that it forces Syria and Russia to be much more cautious with the bombing. You know, the hyperbolic language used by Secretary Kerry is really outrageous, because the United Nations Office of Human Affairs announced that in the two weeks between September 23 and October 8, there have been about 406 civilians killed. 

No one wants any civilians killed, but I’ve got to tell you, if you compare that to the American casualty figures during our invasion of Iraq, during that first year period, we killed approximately 100,000 civilians. So you’re talking about 406 versus 100,000. Frankly, I don’t know whether they taught arithmetic at Yale University, but Secretary Kerry, his rhetoric is terribly overblown.

There’s no doubt that the civilians are being killed in the east, there are significant numbers being killed in the west, and the civilians killed in the west are being deliberately killed and deliberately targeted as civilians. Whereas those in the east are simply being killed because they happen to be on the battlefield.

The combatants who are holding out in east Aleppo are financed and controlled by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the United States. These powers have the ability to pressure the rebels to, say, get the civilians off the battlefield. Syria has allowed seven exit points, and made it very clear that they will care for, give medical attention, food, housing to all civilians who leave. It is what I call the axis power, the axis of evil – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. These are the people who are holding the civilians as human hostages, so that they can force Syria and Russia to take additional casualties as they conquer this final pocket of rebels within Aleppo. …….

……… The heart and soul of the Army of Conquest is Al-Nusra, which is Al-Qaeda in Syria. The Army of Conquest was set up by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, they have joint command headquarters in Idlib, Syria, and they command the whole operation in east Aleppo. If Saudi Arabia and Turkey gave order that the civilians were to leave, then the civilians would be allowed to leave, they would be welcomed by the Syrian government and be cared for. …..,


Western media treatment of East Aleppo and Mosul is hypocrisy in action

October 23, 2016

The Western media (US and Europe) have views about the Middle East which are more than a little coloured by the self induced delusion that the US and Europe are on a righteous crusade against oppression and for the promotion of democracy. That has been and still is the overwhelming view from the time of the first Iraq war, the overthrow of Gaddaffi and all through the Arab spring uprisings in North Africa and now in Syria and Iraq again. That Europe and the US have not just encouraged and supported, but also instigated rebel groups to the prevailing regimes, to the point of recklessness is completely forgotten. Many of the rebel groups (including ISIS and Al-Nusra) would not have dared to begin their blood-letting without the false hopes raised by the Saudi money and the US/NATO/EU support. (It is the same pattern of reckless EU/NATO expansionism – but without the Saudi money – which prevailed in Ukraine and led to the Russian aggression and annexation of the Crimea). This “political correctness” is now blatantly apparent in the difference of media treatment to the assaults on East Aleppo in Syria and on Mosul in Iraq.

Patrick Cockburn has this in The Unz Review (originally in The Independent):

In Libya, Gaddafi was demonised as the sole cause of all his country’s ills while his opponents were lauded as valiant freedom fighters whose victory would bring liberal democracy to the Libyan people. Instead, as was fairly predictable, the overthrow of Gaddafi rapidly reduced Libya to a violent and criminalised anarchy with little likelihood of recovery.

In present day Syria and Iraq one can see much the same process at work. In both countries, two large Sunni Arab urban centres – East Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – are being besieged by pro-government forces strongly supported by foreign airpower. In East Aleppo, some 250,000 civilians and 8,000 insurgents, are under attack by the Syrian Army allied to Shia paramilitaries from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon and supported by the Russian and Syrian air forces. The bombing of East Aleppo has rightly caused worldwide revulsion and condemnation.

But look at how differently the international media is treating a similar situation in Mosul, 300 miles east of Aleppo, where one million people and an estimated 5,000 Isis fighters are being encircled by the Iraqi army fighting alongside Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia and Sunni paramilitaries and with massive support from a US-led air campaign. In the case of Mosul, unlike Aleppo, the defenders are to blame for endangering civilians by using them as human shields and preventing them leaving. In East Aleppo, fortunately, there are no human shields – though the UN says that half the civilian population wants to depart – but simply innocent victims of Russian savagery.

Destruction in Aleppo by Russian air strikes is compared to the destruction of Grozny in Chechnya sixteen years ago, but, curiously, no analogy is made with Ramadi, a city of 350,000 on the Euphrates in Iraq, that was 80 per cent destroyed by US-led air strikes in 2015. Parallels go further: civilians trapped in East Aleppo are understandably terrified of what the Syrian Mukhabara secret police would do to them if they leave and try to pass through Syrian government checkpoints. ……

…….

The advance on Mosul is being led by the elite Special Forces of the Iraqi counter-terrorism units and Shia militias are not supposed to enter the city, almost all of whose current inhabitants are Sunni Arabs. But in the last few days these same special forces entered the town of Bartella on the main road twelve miles from Mosul in their black Humvees which were reportedly decorated with Shia religious banners. Kurdish troops asked them to remove the banners and they refused. An Iraqi soldier named Ali Saad was quoted as saying: “(T)hey asked if we were militias. We said we’re not militias, we are Iraqi forces and these are our beliefs.”

It may be that Isis will not fight for Mosul, but the probability is that they will, in which case the outlook will not be good for the civilian population. Isis did not fight to the last man in Fallujah west of Baghdad so much of the city is intact, but they did fight for Khalidiya, a nearby town of 30,000, where today only four buildings are still standing according to the Americans.

The extreme bias shown in foreign media coverage of similar events in Iraq and Syria will be a rewarding subject for PhDs students looking at the uses and abuses of propaganda down the ages.

This has been the pattern of reporting of the wars in Syria and Iraq over the last five years. Nothing much has changed since 2003 when the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein had persuaded foreign governments and media alike that the invading American and British armies would be greeted with rapture by the Iraqi people. A year later the invaders were fighting for their lives. Misled by opposition propagandists and their own wishful thinking, foreign government officials and journalists had wholly misread the local political landscape. Much the same thing is happening today.


 

Uninvited Turkish troops jeopardise the assault on Mosul

October 21, 2016

Burak Bekdil has an article in The Gatestone Institute where he makes the case that

  • Turkey’s primary concern is not to drive ISIS out of Mosul but to make it a “Sunni-controlled city” after ISIS has been pushed out. And this ambition jeopardizes the planned assault on ISIS.
  • Turkey’s pretext is that its troops are in Iraq to “fight ISIS.” That does not convince anyone.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fancies himself as a reincarnation of Sultan Abdulhamid II who was the 34th and last effective Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He reigned from 1876 to 1908. As Mustafa Akyol writes in Al Monitor:

Sultan Abdulhamid II (image Brittanica)

Sultan Abdulhamid II (image Brittanica)

In Turkey, there has been an unmistakable revival of the image of Sultan Abdulhamid II. The powerful Ottoman monarch who ruled the empire single-handedly from 1876 to 1909 is praised with a flood of articles in the pro-government press, endless messages on social media and various conferences and panels. The speaker of the Turkish parliament, Ismail Kahraman, a confidant of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even hosted an “International Symposium on Sultan Abdulhamid II and His Era,” at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, a relic from the latter-day Ottoman Empire. The great sultan, Kahraman said, “is a mariner’s compass to give us direction and enlighten our future.”

It is – at least partly – Erdogan’s vision of a new Ottoman Empire with himself as a Great Sultan which has triggered Turkish adventurism in Syria and Iraq. A key defensive component of Turkish actions are to eliminate – or at least to block – Kurdish or Shiite influence. The aggressive portion is to expand and promote Sunni dominated areas and keep on good terms with Saudi Arabia.

Their presence in northern Iraq is uninvited.

Bekdil:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi renewed the call for the withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from his country and warned that Turkey’s military adventurism could trigger another war in the Middle East. He said: “We do not want to enter into a military confrontation with Turkey … The Turkish insistence on [its] presence inside Iraqi territories has no justification.”

The Iraqi parliament said in a statement: “The Iraqi government must consider Turkish troops as hostile occupying forces.” Baghdad has also requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to discuss the issue. The UNSC should “shoulder its responsibility and adopt a resolution to end to the Turkish troops’ violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” said Ahmad Jamal, spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

That ISIS is a Sunni group undermines Turkey’s explanations for why they are in Iraq. It is the support for Sunnis and the supposed opposition to ISIS which makes Turkey’s actions seem schizophrenic. The simple reality is that Turkey would like “good Sunnis” to be in control in northern Syria and in northern Iraq. Even the barabarians of ISIS are preferable to the Kurds (and Shiites in Turkish eyes are almost as bad as the Kurds).

Ankara remains defiant. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that Turkish troops would remain in Iraq. Turkey’s pretext is that its troops are in Iraq to “fight ISIS.” That does not convince anyone. Turkey’s intention is largely sectarian (read: pro-Sunni) and Yildirim admitted that in a not-so-subtle way when he said that the Turkish troops were in Iraq also “to make sure that no change to the region’s ‘demographic structure’ is imposed by force.”

Turkey fears that the aftermath of a planned assault on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and ISIS’s Iraqi stronghold, could see a heavy Shiite and Kurdish dominance in the Mosul area. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “Involving Shiite militias in the operation [against IS] will not bring peace to Mosul. On the contrary, it will increase problems.” Unsurprisingly Turkey’s pro-Sunni Islamists want Sunni dominance in a foreign country. This is not the first time they passionately do so.

The problem is that Turkey’s sectarian ambitions come at a time when the coalition is preparing a heavy offensive on ISIS-controlled Mosul. Turkey’s primary concern is not to drive ISIS out of Mosul but to make it a “Sunni-controlled city” after ISIS has been pushed out. And this ambition jeopardizes the planned assault on ISIS. ……. 

….. Turkey’s sectarian ambitions in neighboring Syria have ended up in total failure and bloodshed. Now Ankara wants to try another sectarian adventure in another neighboring and near-failed state, under the pretext of “bringing stability.” Yildirim said that Turkey “bears responsibility for stability in Iraq.” That is simply funny. You cannot bring stability to a country that looks more like a battleground of multiple religious wars than a country with just a few hundred troops.

Now that the assault on Mosul has started, it is already reported that the Turks are complicating and hindering the advance. Presumably they are trying to hinder Kurdish and Shiite forces and trying to assist the Iraqi Sunni forces.

Swedish Radio:

“Turkey jeopardizes the entire military operation by setting their insane demands”, says Mahmoud. “We do not want anyone other than the Iraqi army and peshmerga forces involved here on the Nineveh Plain”, he says.

Altercation between Turkey and Iraq have become increasingly poisonous in recent days. Iraq’s prime minister has told Turkey to stay out of the Mosul operation, while Turkish President Erdogan responds that it is out of the question, and at the weekend the Turkish newspapers published old maps of the Ottoman Empire which included Mosul.

Erdogan also stamped the Iraqi government as sectarian and fanatical. In Baghdad Shiite Muslims demonstrated against Turkey and demanded an end to the Turkish occupation of northern Iraq, referring to the soldiers at the military base Bashiqa.

The increasingly serious contradictions also reflects the regional power struggle, where Sunni Muslim Turkey is now viewed by many here as part of the Saudi sphere of influence, while the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government is considered part of Iran’s sphere of influence.


 

Syrian forces (with Russian support) advance into Palmyra but Iraqi forces (with US support) make slow progress in Mosul

March 27, 2016

Earlier this week there was a great deal of publicity from the Pentagon about a strike which had killed the No.2 in the ISIS “cabinet”, again. (The No. 2 was also killed in August last year and in 2014).

AtlanticIn August of last year, U.S. officials announced the death of Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, the No. 2 to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and something of a weapons and logistics manager for the terrorist group. It was the second time in less than a year the ISIS leader’s top deputy met with an early demise. On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter added Haji Imam, the Islamic State’s finance chief who went by several names, to the growing list of seconds-in-command to die at the hands of American forces. …. 

What Kerry didn’t mention was that, for at least the third time in 18 months, ISIS would need a new No. 2.

I wondered why there was so much publicity about this event in a week which saw Syrian forces advancing on Palmyra and Iraqi forces advancing on Mosul. Surely the retaking of Palmyra and Mosul would be of much greater significance than the killing of not-indispensable individuals?

But then the reason for the PR blitz by the Pentagon became clear. The Syrian advance on Palmyra backed up by Russian air strikes was moving steadily forward. The Iraqi advance on Mosul, backed by US air strikes, was bogged down. A few IS snipers and some land mines were holding up the entire Iraqi advance. The impression that Russian strategy was, once again, showing up US strategy was unpalatable for Obama and the Pentagon, and so the killing of the ISIS No. 2 was pushed forward to demonstrate US successes.

In any event it was a bad week for ISIS on the battlefields of the Middle East but their guerrilla war in Europe hit Brussels. The recapture of Palmyra by Syrian troops is now imminent. The recapture of Mosul by Iraqi troops may take a little longer. The eventual recapture of Mosul will happen, I think. Even if the Iraqi troops fail – which is not at all impossible – the Peshmerga are close behind. To lose Palmyra and Mosul would be a debilitating blow for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It will surely accelerate their shift into Libya.

Reuters: Syrian army, with Russian air support, advances inside Palmyra

Syrian government forces advanced into Palmyra on Saturday with heavy support from Russian air strikes, taking control of several districts in a major assault against Islamic State fighters, Syrian state media and a monitoring group said. ……. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the biggest assault in a three-week campaign by the Syrian army and allied militia fighters to recapture the desert city and open up the road to Islamic State strongholds further east. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said Syrian soldiers and allied militias had taken control of one-third of Palmyra, mainly in the west and north, including part of the ancient city and its Roman-era ruins. Soldiers were also fighting on a southern front, he said.

Syrian media and Arab television channels broadcasting from the slopes of Palmyra’s medieval citadel, one of the last areas of high ground seized by the army on Friday, said troops had advanced inside Palmyra and had taken several neighborhoods. 

The recapture of Palmyra, which the Islamist group seized in May 2015, would mark the biggest reversal for Islamic State in Syria since Russia’s intervention turned the tide of the five-year conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

Times of OmanIraqi forces make slow progress against IS 

Iraqi forces made slow progress against IS in the north of the country on Friday in the second day of an offensive touted as the beginning of a broader campaign to clear areas around the city of Mosul. Backed by Kurdish forces and a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched the assault at dawn on Thursday, recapturing three villages in the Makhmour area south of Mosul, according to peshmerga commander Najat Ali and an Iraqi army source.

The Iraqi army source, who is taking part in the offensive, said troops were preparing to attack another village on Friday but were being held up because the militants had rigged streets and buildings with explosives. “The mining has slightly slowed down the army,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak to the media. ….. 

Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether the army, which partially collapsed when IS overran a third of the country in June 2014, will be ready in time.


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