Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The tale of two cities: Mosul and Aleppo

The tale of two cities: Mosul and Aleppo

Two ancient cities in the Middle East, Mosul and Aleppo, have enjoyed global media attention for quite some time now. Unfortunately, it is for bad reasons. Mosul is an Iraqi city while Aleppo is in Syria. Both cities have been under siege by armed groups. While Mosul is under the control of ISIL, Aleppo has been in the hands of both ISIS and rebel groups fighting to overthrow the government of Syrian President, Bashar al Assad. The two ancient cities have been under the control of non-state actors enjoying monopoly over instruments of violence.
In recent months, there have been deliberate efforts by both Syria and Iraqi governments with the assistance of their allies to dislodge the rebel and terrorist groups from these cities. Syria is backed by Russia and Iraq has the support of the US. It is a delicate fight considering the huge presence of civilian population in the two cities.
Aleppo is a city in Syria, serving as the capital of the Aleppo governorate with a population of more than 2.3 million people. It has been divided between government held west and rebel controlled east since 19 July 2012.  Different terrorist groups including ISIS and Al Qaeda are also found in the eastern part. Some of these have been funded and trained by the United States government with a clear directive to get rid of Assad government. These groups and terrorist gangs have carved Eastern Aleppo into spheres of influence.
With the backing of Russia, the Syrian army made a break through last February by cutting the northern supply route of the rebels and terrorists from Turkey. Russia has persistently been accusing Turkey of aiding the rebels and doing business with terrorists. That singular strategic effort has down graded the capacity of the rebels and their terrorist collaborators. Consequently, there has been a steady weakening of the grip by rebels on the control of the city.
On October 6, President Bashar al Assad offered amnesty to militants to evacuate their families to safe areas to enable government forces take full control of the city. UN envoy, Staffa de Mistura offered to personally accompany the rebels. The militants rejected the proposal and the diplomat was forced to openly accuse them of holding civilian population hostage.
In September, Syria assisted by Russia launched an unprecedented bombardment on the city since six years of the war in an effort to retake control of the ancient city. The rebels and their allies cried out alleging killing of civilians. In response to the outcry, Syria and Russia forces opened humanitarian corridors to allow civilian population in Aleppo to evacuate away from the fighting. The rebels, as reported by The Independent newspaper, started shelling the area preventing civilians from fleeing the war-torn city.
The Russia government, recognizing the humanitarian implications of the fight, has been sending relief materials and medical assistance to the civilian population. But the US and its allies insist that Russia bombardment of Aleppo is targeting only civilian population. Curiously, rebels earlier this month, according to the CNN, bombed the hospital provided by the Russian government to give medical assistance to civilians.
Similarly, Mosul is a city with a huge population of over 2.5 million people. It has Sunni majority. It was taken over in 2014 by ISIL from Iraqi government and designated headquarter of the self-proclaimed caliphate which span Iraq and Syria by its leader, Abu Bakr al Bhaghdadi.
Since October 17, 2016, the Iraqi government assisted by the US and a coalition of Kurdish, Shiite and Christian militias has launched a massive military operation to retake the city from ISIL. Prior to the attack, the Iraqi government embarked on mass mobilization, which includes dropping of leaflets to inform civilians of the need to flee the besieged city.
But the terrorists, similar to what the rebels did in Aleppo, refused to allow civilians to leave. The battle has been going on for nearly two months now. There is no doubt that hundreds of civilian lives must have been lost in Mosul just like Aleppo due to tendency of rebels and terrorists to use civilians as human shield by refusing to allow them flee the city.
However, the US and its allies are downplaying the issue of civilian casualties in the Mosul operation. But they accuse Russia of committing heresy in Aleppo. Concepts like "minimize losses", "surgical strikes", "inevitable civilian casualties" and "reasonable victims" are being euphemistically used to describing what is happening in Mosul.
At the time Mosul came under attack by the US and Iraqi forces in mid October, there were over one million civilians held up there compared to the 250, 000 people left in eastern Aleppo before the current Russia-led operation to dislodge the rebels. Why the silence on civilian casualty in Mosul? Not much is being said of how many civilians that are being killed as a result of the fierce battle that has been raging in and around the city of Mosul.
Are there differences between what is happening in Mosul and that of Aleppo? Not much. The only major difference is that the US is the one leading the offensive against ISIS while Russia is the arrowhead of the operation in Aleppo. Aside from this, everything happening to regain control of the cities from the hands of non-state armed groups is the same.
This similarity has been well explained by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in an interview with journalists at the Goa summit. The modus operandi has been the same because of the delicate nature of the battleground that is in the midst of civilians. The interest of both the US and Russia is known to every discerning mind.
Russia has persistently and openly expressed its opposition to the idea of allowing the rebels who are working with many terrorist organisations to overthrow President Assad on the ground that it portends danger for its national security. Russia has been complaining of the link between ISIS and the Bandera terrorist groups in Ukraine, which has been fighting against Russia. Their fear is confirmed by the fact that the US has in the course of the conflict in Syria openly supported in cash and materials such groups like Al Nusra Front that has link with terrorist groups operating in Southern Russia.
The US on the other hand believes that the continuous stay in office of President Assad jeopardizes its national interest in the Middle- East. Deriving from this is the inexorable fact that a victory for the Russia assisted Syrian government over the rebels will diminish the stature of the US in the region.
It is from this premise that the discomfiture of the US government with the progress of the Syrian army in Aleppo can be appreciated - it is a victory for Russia. But considering the implication of the Syrian crisis to the fight against terrorism, there is a sense in which the two powerful nations, especially the US, should at this point elevate human safety and security high above geo-politics.
What the world wants now is how the terrorists in Mosul and Aleppo will be eliminated. Their activities have widespread implication in the fight against terrorism across the world, including the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria. While the US is doing everything to get ISIS out of Mosul, it should allow Russia to go ahead with its operation in Aleppo. The crisis in Syria needs to be ended because it has much to contribute to the fight against terrorism.

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