What can we learn from the battle of Mosul, now projected at over seven months? That the USA (other than endless war) has no idea what it is doing, what it is up against, and what victory would even look like against ISIS.
ISIS took the Mosul region in six days with a force of 1500 lightly armed men. The region was defended by 30,000 Iraqi troops and another 30,000 police, not to mention the 2 million inhabitants themselves, many of them armed.
That alone should have given analysts a clue, but even the battle to retake Mosul is apparently still not enough to have anyone acknowledge reality. Reports indicate that a force of over 108,000 Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces have been incapable of retaking Mosul after six months of fighting and despite the assistance of US air power and "advisors" on the ground. In West Mosul, the fighting is house-to-house with the advance halted whenever civilian casualties are unacceptably high.
The legacy media in the USA has been relentless in framing the situation as a despised but skeletal ISIS force holding millions hostage. If you have been following the reports of writers like Patrick Cockburn, the increasingly dire situation of the remaining 400,000 or so residents in West Mosul is made clear. As the battle rages on it appears to be another example of destroying a city to save it.
In Cockburn’s latest report appearing in the Independent and the Unz Review we see two extremely important comments by Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and it isn’t the catchy title about Al-Baghdadi escaping. First: "There was an idea in Baghdad that there would be an uprising against Isis…"
Dear God, that is reminiscent of being welcomed as liberators into Iraq! Were that realistic, ISIS would not have taken Mosul in the first place. It is beyond belief that we have watched a tiny cadre of men overtake Mosul while outnumbered 40:1 in professional fighting forces along with millions of residents and have not understood that ISIS must have support or acquiescence from a significant portion of the population.
It reminds me of the old joke told in the Six Day war: three survivors return from a Division of ten thousand men wiped out in battle. They report that it was an ambush by the enemy. There were two of them. Is ISIS the greatest fighting force the world has seen for some time now, or are we not understanding the situation at all?
Now, even with air power, US military intelligence and advisors, and over a hundred thousand men we still have not taken Mosul after six months. Has no one any common sense? Reports are received by cell phone inside West Mosul. So where is the resistance? The sabotage? The assassinations? The targeting assistance? Who is this conquering army working with inside Mosul? If life under the thumb of ISIS is so horrible, then where is the uprising?
The natural excuse for the uncritical is that people are too terrified of ISIS to resist. But death always stares resistance in the face. This is nothing new or different, yet resistance is famous in other situations. The more horrid the conditions, the greater the resistance we should expect – and that is the pap we have been fed. It’s what we were fed with Saddam Hussein and it’s what we are fed with ISIS.
By our standards ISIS is ghastly. But our standards are irrelevant. We are blind to the real-life choices Iraqis have. It isn’t between ISIS and Kansas City. We have a long history in Iraq working with militias bent on reprisals, criminal gangs, and our own war crimes with the treatment of "detainees".
Scott Horton and the Libertarian Institute inform us that current Trump military advisor McMaster committed war crimes in Iraq, always such a big surprise – again, and again, and again. Our legacy media informs us ISIS propaganda has put fear of escape into Mosul residents. ISIS doesn’t need to. The Iraqis themselves know far better the potential fates that await them, and at best right now that is a refugee camp run by anyone but Sunnis.
When you have 15,000 refugees a day streaming out of a war zone, it is tragically easy to choose publishing the ones who agree with your narrative. All you are doing is confirmation bias. Yes, ISIS is bad. Yes, Saddam Hussein was bad. Well Trump is called Hitler too by plenty of people in the USA but that doesn’t mean outside forces should be destroying half our country to remove him from power… and then what?
The second comment in Cockburn’s interview is just as troublesome: "Mr. Hussein says that there was no political plan for post-Isis Mosul put forward last year, because it would have raised divisive issues that might have prevented a military campaign against Isis." Have we learned nothing in Iraq? No post-invasion plan. Hurry up and drop the bombs, the important thing is getting the war on.
Except that we don’t know what winning looks like if there is no plan. Mr. Hussein seems to think that parties to the war will hold on to the territory each has "liberated", which means part of it in Shia hands and part of it in Kurdish hands. The displaced Sunni – just displaced? We don’t know. We’re just making it up as we go along again.
There are other strategic blunders being reported – such as ISIS slipping away to other strongholds which would have been easier to secure first, thereby eliminating escape-and-evade survival. But the reality is that our blundering is at a much deeper strategic level – namely being there in the first place.
We obviously do not understand the conditions that led to success by ISIS, and we have no idea what we are to do after we "win" this battle for Mosul. The law of unintended consequences awaits in spades, even if ISIS as a working government over a land area ceases to exist. It will certainly carry on as a guerilla force, which historically proved capable of taking Mosul in six days after we declare victory and turn away.
The Kurdish Peshmerga has been showcased as freedom-fighting lions in the media, especially the women fighters in the feminist-dominated West. But the Kurdish problem is an intractable one itself. Turkey is especially concerned with the rise in Kurdish aspirations to a Kurdistan. Maybe after a successful Marxist Kurdish state is established the legacy media will get around to telling us that they are, well – Marxists.
The Shia domination of Sunni territory is a problem for one thing not just because it guarantees solidarity between garden variety Sunnis and the most extremist – but because the surrounding region is predominantly Sunni. The one thing you can be sure of is that unless we fundamentally reject American Empire, there will be more conflict and more billions upon billions that could be spent at home instead of being spent propping up governments or overthrowing them in multiple countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Syria too – who knows what the current administration has planned there, other than fighting ISIS.
We can’t seem to learn that not being involved at all is the least costly answer for the United States. We left Vietnam and the "communists" took over as our helicopters were lifting people off the embassy roof. But it was the right thing to do. It is also the right thing to leave the Middle East to itself. We have no idea what to do even if we "win" against ISIS, and the recapture of Mosul looks like another misguided Mission Accomplished moment for the USA.
Robert R. Logan, PhD is a retired professor of Economics and consultant living in interior Alaska.