Most of us have been so caught up in the conflagration that is the battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton that we may be only vaguely aware of the battle that began last week in Mosul, Iraq. Oddly, there is actually a connection between the U.S. election and Mosul, but I will come back to that in a moment.
A brief bit of background. On June 10, 2014, Daesh (aka Islamic State, ISIL, or ISIS) took control of Mosul. Since then, several phone lines have been cut by Daesh and many cell phone towers and Internet access points were destroyed, rendering the area virtually cut off from the world outside of Mosul. Once home to at least 70,000 Assyrian Christians, there are few left today in Mosul, and any that do remain are forced to pay a tax for remaining Christian, while living under the constant threat of violence. Christian churches and monasteries have been vandalized and burned down, their ancient Assyrian heritage sites dating back to the Iron Age destroyed, their homes and possessions stolen by Daesh and ultimatums to either convert to Islam, leave their ancient homelands, or be murdered. The residents of the city have been essentially prisoners, forbidden to leave the city unless they post with Daesh a significant collateral of family members, personal wealth and property. They may then leave the city upon paying a significant “departure tax” on a three-day pass (for a higher fee they can surrender their home, pay the fee and leave for good) and if those with a three-day pass fail to return in that time their assets will be seized and family will be killed. Many females from Mosul are imprisoned and occasionally many are slaughtered because of their resistance to being sold as sex slaves. Daesh occupiers have murdered or driven out most minority groups and converted some Christians to Islam. Women are required to cover their bodies from head to foot in a strict variant of Sharia rule and men are required to fully grow their beards and hair as do the members of Daesh. Life in Mosul is one of violent oppression where people suspected of activism against the occupiers, resistance activities, homosexuality, promiscuity or adultery are brutally and summarily tortured and murdered.
Mosul is currently the last major city in Iraq under the control of Daesh. On October 16th, Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes launched coordinated military operations in a joint effort to reclaim the city of Mosul from Daesh. While the operation is considered key in the military intervention against Daesh, the fear is that Daesh will use civilians as human shields, and indeed this has been happening. It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million people are still living in the city.
The latest news as of today is that resistance from Daesh is getting stronger and hundreds of suicide bombers have been sent from Syria to assist in the defense of the city. It is reported that Daesh has been carrying out “retribution killings” of civilians as revenge for others welcoming Iraqi and Peshmerga troops in liberated villages. Forces evacuated more than 1,000 civilians from the front lines surrounding Mosul. Humanitarian agencies are concerned about civilians trying to flee Mosul with winter approaching, and Daesh has threatened to execute those caught attempting to escape.
The battle for Mosul is not likely to end quickly and is likely to take a toll on human lives. The history and political rivalries of the region involving Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are far too complex for a blog post, but if you are interested, this article from Brookings Institute may give you some insight. So why, you ask, have I told you all this? A couple of reasons, actually.
- I needed a break from writing about the U.S. presidential election
- I think it is important for all of us to remember that, despite our differences, despite the political arguments, we are so much more fortunate than much of the rest of the world. I also think it is important for us to realize that there is a ‘rest of the world’. We have largely insulated ourselves and wrapped ourselves in the slightly worn blanket of our own political agenda, but on occasion we need to come out of our insulation and realize that there is actually a whole world out there, some of which is struggling to survive.
- The U.S. military is involved in the fight to re-take Mosul, and it does, therefore, concern us.
- There has been some highly mis-informed rhetoric by the Republican candidate in the presidential race that is potentially dangerous to those who may not have even a basic understanding of the situation in Mosul.
I would like to comment briefly on #4. Donald Trump, who likely never heard of Mosul until ten days ago, made the following statement during the 3rd and final debate last week:
“The problem with Mosul and what they wanted to do is they wanted to get the leaders of ISIS who they felt were in Mosul. About three months ago, I started reading they want to get the leaders and they’re going to attack Mosul. Whatever happened to the element of surprise, okay? We announce we’re going after Mosul. I’ve been reading about going after Mosul now for about how long is it, Hillary, three months? These people have all left. They’ve all left. The element of surprise. Douglas MacArthur, George Patton spinning in their graves at the stupidity of our country.
So we’re now fighting for Mosul. That we had. All she had to do was stay there, now we’re going in to get it. But you know who the big winner in Mosul is going to be after we eventually get it — and the only reason they did it is because she’s running for office of president and they want to look tough. They want to look good. He violated the red line in the sand, and he made so many mistakes. He made all mistakes. That’s why we have the great Migration, but she wanted to look good for the election. So they’re going in.”
Then on Sunday Trump tweeted that the ongoing offensive against the ISIS stronghold of Mosul is turning out to be a “total disaster.” Former dean of the Army War College, Jeff McCausland, said Trump’s comments show he doesn’t have a firm grasp of military strategy. Other military historians and senior officers claimed that Trump’s ‘armchair generalship’ revealed a fundamental lack of understanding of Iraqi politics, military warfare — and even some of the most famous campaigns commanded by MacArthur and Patton. Trump, in a later interview with George Stephanopoulos, said, “You can tell your military expert that I’ll sit down and I’ll teach him a couple of things.” When I heard that, my mouth dropped open and I nearly choked! Who the heck … what the heck … ??? And on that note, I leave you to draw your own conclusions.