“Aleppo and Mosul, two besieged cities”

by Renaud Girard, French war correspondent, specialised in geopolitical issues, France

What are the similarities and differences between these two besiegements? How do the important regional and international actors try to continue to pursue their strategic interests?
In the Orient the military current affairs are determined by the simultaneous siege of two large cities, Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. The governments of Damascus and Baghdad have been allied for several years, within the so-called “Shiite axis” extending from Tehran to Beirut. Both try to recapture their second-largest cities – fallen into the hands of Sunni rebel militias – by military means. Both now besiege the eastern part of these metropolises. Where are the similarities and differences between these two sieges? How do the important regional and international actors try to consolidate their strategic interests?
In its re-conquest of the eastern quarters of Aleppo (since July 2012 in the hands of the rebellion), the Baathist-Syrian army has several allies: the Russian air force, the Lebanese Hizbullah and the “international” Shiite brigades (including the Afghan Hazara) supported by Officers of the special forces of the al-Quds division of the Iranian Pasdarans, the Kurdish Peshmergas of the profane movement of the crypto-communist party of the Democratic Union PYD (those who successfully acted as adversaries to the Islamic state during the siege of Kobané from September 2014 to January 2015).
In the re-conquest of the eastern quarters of Mosul, the Iraqi special forces of the Baghdad government are supported by the air strikes of the Western bombers, the patriotic Shiite militia and the Kurdish Peshmergas of the autonomous government of Erbil (who control the northern front without claims for access to the city in the future). In Aleppo, the al-Nusra front (branch of al-Qaeda) constitutes the spearhead of the rebel militias, who consists of a patchwork, mostly of several Islamic groups. What happens inside these besieged cities? We do not have any first-hand information because it is far too dangerous for Western reporters to go there. In Mosul they risk being beheaded; in Aleppo they risk being abducted and only resigned against ransom payments.
A quite strange phenomenon is shown in the fight for Aleppo: Since 2013, the Western media have no longer enough confidence in the Syrian rebellion to send reporters there. Nevertheless, without any kind of filtering, they believe and disseminate the information spread by the rebels, who are, of course, very interested in presenting themselves as innocent lambs and blackening their opponents. This black and white (the author uses manichean instead of black and white, but normal English readers would not know what that is) painting has existed for five years and has never changed. In Aleppo one has to deal with a “tyrant” (Bashar al-Assad) who, so to speak as a pleasure, massacres his people. The siege of Aleppo is, of course, cruel, and the number of civilian casualties is estimated to be 300 for the past two weeks. This black-and-white image is by no means applied to the Iraqi army, who also tries to regain control over Mosul. There the attackers are the good and the rebels the evil. The figures of civilian casualties are similar: they have been estimated at Mosul to 600 since the beginning of the fighting. This is by no means questioned that the fanatical IS fighters are the “super evil”. Because, on the basis of their tactics of systematically using vehicles for suicide bombers – that is similar to the launching of ground-to-ground missiles – the IS generals sent hundreds of young people to their death after having brainwashed them.
In the siege of Aleppo, the Western press has put itself on the side of the resistance fighters; in Mosul on the side of the attackers. But this is no longer so crucial, since the influence of the international media on the geopolitical situation has lost much of its importance: Today, media influence on the great strategic decisions is no longer the same as in the times of the wars in the Balkans, in Iraq or in Libya.
When Aleppo and Mosul have been fallen, who will be the great strategic winners? There are Iran and Russia in the first and second rank. The Western strategists have underestimated massively the determination of these two Eastern forces. Tehran has strengthened the Shiite axis, while Moscow has strengthened its access to the Mediterranean. On the third rank are the Kurds, who after initial setbacks are victorious on all fronts. The US are not the total losers, as they declared IS to be their new main enemy. The big losers will be the Turks, whose neo-Ottoman policy is broken, as well as the Europeans, who have to bear the burden of the refugees largely alone.
At the Prague Summit in November 2002, President Chirac had tried to dissuade President Bush from invading Iraq. He had whispered to him, “George, you’re creating a Shiite axis in the Middle East: but where is your strategic interest?” He did not receive any answer …    •

Source: “Le Figaro” from 6.12.2016

(Translation Current Concerns)