MINNEAPOLIS — With a massive battle to retake the key Iraqi city of Mosul from terrorist forces now underway, military experts warn that even a victory could further destabilize the Middle East.
Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group commonly known in the West as ISIS or ISIL) has occupied the major city in northern Iraq since 2014. On Sunday, Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by an international coalition commenced what some military experts say could be a months-long military offensive to retake Mosul.
Officially, the Pentagon says U.S. forces are only acting in a supporting role in the region. However, with thousands of troops in place, some are questioning what they’re actually doing there. On Tuesday, Russian state-owned news network RT quoted Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, as saying:
“There are … some 5,000 American special operations troops, which Washington calls military advisers. Well, 5,000 advisers is a large number.”
While some mainstream media touts the Mosul offensive as a key step toward defeating Daesh, others are far less confident. Robert Fisk, a foreign correspondent with decades of experience in the Middle East, warned that the conflict in Mosul could actually contribute to the escalation of the Syrian civil war by driving Daesh forces across the border into Syria. In an analysis published Tuesday in CounterPunch, Fisk wrote:
“For weeks now, Western media and the American experts it likes to quote have been predicting a Stalingrad-style battle to the death by Isis inside Mosul – or a swift victory over Isis followed by inter-sectarian Iraqi battles for the city. … But the Syrians – after witnessing the sudden collapse and evacuation of Palmyra when their own army retook the ancient Syrian city earlier this year – suspect that Isis will simply abandon Mosul and try to reach safety in the areas of Syria which it still controls.”
Fisk further speculated that pushing Daesh back into Syria would ultimately support Washington’s goal of overthrowing the government of President Bashar Assad.
“The real purpose behind the much-trumpeted US-planned ‘liberation’ of the Iraqi city, the Syrian military suspect, is to swamp Syria with the hordes of Isis fighters who will flee their Iraqi capital in favour of their ‘mini-capital’ of Raqqa inside Syria itself,” he wrote.
“In other words, if Mosul falls, the entire Isis caliphate army could be directed against the Assad government and its allies – a scenario which might cause some satisfaction in Washington,” he wrote, noting that this scenario played out earlier this year when Daesh fighters fled Fallujah for Syria.
Pentagon officials have admitted that Daesh forces are beginning to flee Mosul. Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the U.S. military commander in charge of U.S. ground forces in the region, told reporters by video on Wednesday:
“We have seen movement out of Mosul. We’ve got indications that leaders have left. A lot of foreign fighters we expect will stay as they’re not able to exfiltrate as easily as some of the local fighters or local leadership, so we expect there will be a fight.”
The battle for Mosul could destabilize Iraq or even provoke a civil war, if members of the anti-Daesh coalition jockey for power in the event of a victory for U.S.-Iraqi forces. “The result could be an Aleppo-style quagmire,” warned retired U.S. Army Col. Daniel L. Lewis in a Sept. 17 report for Politico.
Regardless of the outcome, the battle for Mosul is already taking a high toll on the civilian population. U.N. officials have warned that as many as 1.5 million Iraqis could be displaced from Mosul during the offensive.
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