Aleppo, Mosul, and the US Strategy of Permanent War
The United States attempts to secure its national security interests in Syria and Iraq by sustaining conflict rather than pursuing political solutions, says professor Sabah Alnasseri
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo is over, and the Assad government has taken full control over the city. Civilians are still evacuating and some rebels still remain in the city. Russia and Turkey have pledged not to let the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey get in the way of the ceasefire.
The UN General Assembly is in the process of setting up an investigation into war crimes during the battle for Aleppo. Meanwhile, 300 miles from Aleppo, in Iraq, the U.S.-supported effort to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State rages on. According to the latest reports, progress there is slower than expected and Iraqi forces probably won’t be able to retake the city for another month or so. Recently, a water pipeline in Mosul was destroyed and now large parts of the city are cut off from fresh water.
Joining us to take a comparative look at the fighting in Aleppo and in Mosul is Sabah Alnasseri. Sabah is an Associate Professor at York University in Toronto, and the Editor of Arab Revolutions and Beyond: The Middle East and Reverberations in the Americas. Sabah, so good to have you with us today.
SABAH ALNASSERI: So good to be with you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Sabah, you have been focusing, in terms of your academic work and your interests, there’s been a focus on Iraq. So, let’s begin there. What are some of the main lessons that you think are to be drawn from the US-backed effort to fight ISIS in Iraq, and what has that fight been like, mainly for the people living there, the Iraqis?
SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, that’s a question with three parts. The first one is the lesson drawn, the second one the fight against ISIS, and the third, the effect on the Iraqi population.
For the first one — lesson drawn — the first thing to say is that the United States was never really interested in a political solution in Iraq, quite the opposite. By opting for a military strategy, for a bombing strategy, trying to bomb its way through, in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, made any possible peaceful solution to the conflict in Iraq almost impossible. And just to give an example, siding with the ex-Minister, President … party(?), who committed massacre against the peaceful demonstrators in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul, in December 2013 and general(?) 2014, so that he can win the election after(?) 2014… opened up, actually, the routes for ISIS to enter all the cities and occupy half of Iraq.
So, the second thing, the United States, instead of pushing for reforms and inclusion of half of the Iraqi population and the north-western provinces of Iraq, they did what they did before, and then they created new militias, turning Iran into a militia state. And that means escalating the conflict and war further by, again, siding with the Shiite militia … al-Maliki government of that time.
The third thing is, it was really never about ISIS in Iraq. The United States was not fighting ISIS. Through all this militarization of the conflict in Iraq, and making any possible political solution possible, the fact that the United States caused and sustained ISIS in Iraq, and by extension in Syria. You know, after the fact, one can argue this is maybe the best way to secure these, so called, national security interests of the United States, by sustaining war and making any political solution impossible.
The second part of the question about the fighting against ISIS — as I said, it was really never about ISIS, how to fight ISIS. Take, for example, the last battles in this year, in Fallujah and Ramadi and Baqubah and so on, and now in Mosul, it was mainly everybody’s so-called, Popular Mobilization Units. These are Shiite militia and, you know, trained and led by Iran. So, to a large extent, these Shiite militia actually were engaged in a battle with ISIS in all these cities. And, in some cases, they were successful, but successful, you know, in a very negative sense. Because, what happens? Destroyed city and displaced population — but still, at the level that the military … now you can see that they were successful, but was not so much the United States, but actually Iran and their militias, who kicked out ISIS fighters from these cities. And now it’s, to a large extent, also … in Mosul. So, the US was not really interested in finishing ISIS. The US wanted only to weaken ISIS, but sustain it, in order to have a permanent means of intervention(?) in Iraq and in Syria …
The third part of the question — the effect on the Iraqi population. You see, all these fights and conflicts in Iraq, and all the different cities, not only left these cities in ruins, but displaced hundred thousand of people and a thousand people were killed, … injured, etcetera, adding to the million already internally and externally displaced in Iraq and Syria.
So, you can argue that if the Nazis in 1930 committed the Holocaust of the 20th century against the European Jews, you can say in the 21st century the United States and UK and France are committing the first holocaust in the 21st century. And I can assure you, this will not be the last holocaust. If you add up all the people who are killed and displaced and injured in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, etcetera, this amounts to a Third World War. We are witnessing a Third World War with genocidal effects, and maybe a lot of people don’t even notice it, or are surprised that sometimes upon them there are terror attacks in Europe and the United States – “Why on Earth is this happening?” This is the most surprising thing about the last year or the last few years.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Sabah, if we turn to Syria, certainly the conflict in Syria is different, but there are some important similarities. Just as in Iraq, in Syria we’re dealing with Islamic State, which is fighting government forces that have a super power backing them. Except in Syria, the government supporter is Russia, instead of the US. And based on the experience, and your experience of studying Iraq, what can we expect to happen in Syria, now that Aleppo has fallen?
SABAH ALNASSERI: Yeah, it’s an excellent question. You know, in politics there are no coincidences. On December 8, President Obama waived the restriction on arming rebels, foreign fighters, groups, individuals, Santa Claus — anybody who is fighting in Syria — so they will receive weapons from the United States. And as I said, there are no coincidences, because this happens at a time where the Syrian Army, backed by Russia and Iran, was capable of retaking Aleppo from the Syrian rebels.
And what happened at the same time is that there’s a shift in Turkey’s policies toward Russia and Iran. So, the ceasefire and the evacuation of the civilian and rebel forces from Aleppo, was actually designed by Russia and Turkey. So, there’s a shift here in the axis of the alliances of the war. At the same time — and again, it’s not a surprise — while the Syrian Army was retaking Aleppo, all of a sudden a thousand fighters of ISIS, attacked the historical city of Palmyra, … which is to the east of Homs in the desert, retook the city from the Russian and the Syrian troops. This is not only not a coincidence, but it’s amazing how thousands of fighters of the Islamic State moved through the deserts, attacked Palmyra with heavy weapons, and none of the 14 so-called coalition countries in NATO and the US, with all their AWACS and radars and drones and all that, noticed that these fighters are moving and retaking the city. This is unbelievable, to say the least.
So, my sense is, that when the United States, UK and France and their original allies like the … by extension, they realized that the Syrian Army now, is almost retaking the biggest chunk of the Syrian territory — especially a city like Aleppo of almost two million people, like Mosul in Iraq — and the Russian-Turkey-Iran alliance is more successful in fighting ISIS in Syria, they tried to open up a new conflict zone. Tried to arm all possible forces to sustain the conflict, rather than try to stop it.
Now, one thing is interesting in this scenario, that the President-elect Trump was saying that he’s not interested in regime change, rather he’ll collaborate with Russia in fighting ISIS in Syria. If this is the case, and if he sticks to this strategy, then that probably would be the first sign of ending the conflict in Syria.
SHAMIRI PERIES: Right. So, if we were to try to understand both countries — if you turn to Iraq again — as I mentioned in the introduction, the government forces are trying to dislodge the Islamic State rebels in the city of Mosul, which is a very large city and comparable to Syria’s city of Aleppo, in some ways. How does this fight for Mosul compare with the one for Aleppo? Keeping, of course, there’s comparisons and changes are forthcoming, as you say, with the Trump government. We hope that there’s a solution in Syria. But sticking with what we were doing here, which is trying to draw comparisons and what we can learn from them in moving forward, give us a better understanding of that.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Right. Two things, the first one is, the Syrian Army backed by Russia and Iran and Hezbollah, were fighting in Aleppo, not so much ISIS, but actually rebel forces who are allies of the United States; whereas in Mosul, the United States and other, almost 40 countries, with the Iraq Army, are fighting mostly ISIS. So, there’s a big difference here between them. That’s why you can see the conflict in Aleppo, and with all its dimensions — you know, the humanitarian, etcetera, disaster — was fully covered, whereas the conflict in Mosul’s almost invisible. Because there, the Iraq Army with the Shiite militia supported by Iran, are fighting ISIS in Mosul, unlike in Aleppo.
And the second thing is that the Syrian Army was capable of retaking Aleppo because there was serious attempt by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah to support the Syrian Army and engage in the conflict to retake the city. Whereas, in the case of Mosul, the US is not serious in retaking the city of Mosul. They have a thousand of so-called advisors and trainers and what have you, but the fact is that they are not interested in supporting the Iraqi Army to retake the city of Mosul — and quite the opposite. What you can hear is that it’s almost impossible to retake the city within the next few weeks or months, or probably years, because of the way ISIS is fighting in Mosul. But if the US and its so-called coalition were serious about fighting ISIS, they would have pursued different strategies and contained and then weakened and then defeated ISIS — but this is not the case. So you can see how two different complete zones, with two different interests and two different agendas, in one case is more successful in Aleppo; in Mosul, I don’t think we will witness, as I said to you a month ago on The Real News, the liberation of Mosul any time soon. Quite the opposite — it will be a protracted war of attrition for a long time to come.
SHARMINI PERIES: And the Iraqi government’s alliances with Iran, what does that have to do with the US’s disinterest in assisting a more expedient way in the overtake of Mosul and pushing back the ISIS?
SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, in the meantime, Iraq is also an ally of Iran and, by extension, supporting the Syria government in Syria. So the interests of Iran and Russia is primarily to beat ISIS, and in Syria and in Iraq to sustain the government of al-Assad in Syria and the Shia government in Iraq. Whereas, the United States has two different agendas — one for Iraq and one for Syria. And, again I was saying on The Real News a long time ago, when war becomes permanent, justifications, alliances and so on can become(?) convenient(?). Right? Depends where you are fighting, you choose different allies and you pursue different strategies. And, whereas in the States, in the case of Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and the strategies are clear — to defeat the rebel forces and ISIS to sustain the government of al-Assad in Syria and the Shiite governments in Iraq.
SHARMINI PERIES: And, Sabah, finally, when you turn to the New York Times and some of the main Western press, you see extensive coverage of what’s happening in Aleppo but very little coverage of Mosul except for say Patrick Cockburn in the Independent in the UK, you know, who actually made this comparison between Mosul and Aleppo and the lack of coverage there on Mosul. What’s your take on the coverage of Aleppo versus Mosul?
SABAH ALNASSERI: Well, it’s clear. I mean, the case of Aleppo demonstrates very clearly the weaker position of the United States and its allies in Syria. Because Syria is not a civil or sectarian war, just like I was arguing a month ago that the war in Iraq was not sectarian or civil. It’s an imperialist war on terror, right? It’s a proxy war taking place. So the position of the United States and the allies, the European allies and the … and so on, is weakened and now the relational forces are shifting to the advantage of Iran and Russia.
A new dimension to that, new alliance emerged especially after the coup in July in Turkey — Turkey shifted its position and became much more closer to Iran and Russia. And, as I said, we can see the ceasefire and the evacuation was designed by Turkey and Russia. And last week or a few days ago, the three foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia met without the United States and without United Nations to design a political solution for the conflict in Syria. This shows that the real shift of relational forces on the ground to the disadvantage of the United States.
So the whole coverage of the media about the massacre and war crimes upon humanity by the Syrian government and Russia is so disingenuous, it wants to cover up the loss and the weakening of the United States and Russian by presenting it as a moral, humanitarian issue. Whereas, in the case of Mosul, as I said, the US is not really serious about fighting ISIS; it’s mostly Iran, the Iraqi Army and the Shiite militias — and Turkey to some extent, especially in Bashirba(?) close to Turkmen Raffah(?).
So, again, the whole hypocrisy of the Western media about war crimes and crime against humanity, against the Syrian government and Russia, doesn’t mean that they didn’t commit crime. What it means now if you compare what the United States and NATO did in Iraq to Libya and Afghanistan — and, by the way, the forgotten war in Yemen — a million of people were killed or displaced. This is a holocaust of the 21st century and all these Western media are actually not going(?) quiet about it but they tried to reframe it in a way, as Trump supporters would say, as a genocide against the Christian people, … the perpetrator/victims on its head just like Nazis used to do in 1930s, blaming the European Jews for all the disasters and misery of the German Empire.
SHARMINI PERIES: And, Sabah, it’s not just the press that is alleging the war crimes or the behavior of the Russian and Assad governments in Aleppo, it’s also the UN has taken some action to look into this. What do you make of that?
SABAH ALNASERRI: Well, again, if you have such a complex scenario in which multiple actors are involved, it’s not really clear who is committing what. But, one thing is all clear — everyone has blood on his hands. So no one can be innocent, no one can claim that he or she did not commit any crime — that’s for sure. But the question is why single out one or two specific forces and leaving all others who are equally involved in these war crimes? This selective prosecution is one of these, as I said, hypocrisies of NATO or US war of terror since 2001.
Just to give you an example, my argument is to say, if for instance President Obama, in 2009, if he would have prosecuted Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney for war crimes and crimes against humanity; if the UK prosecuted Blair for war crimes and so on, just like they did with … and Taylor, if they would have done this, we wouldn’t have ISIS today. If the United States opted for political solution in Iraq, reconciled between all the segment of the Iraqi population — not opting for military strategy, not creating more militias but investing in infrastructure, electricity, water, jobs for the Iraqi population, we wouldn’t have ISIS today. If the United States would have supported different political forces in Iraq and not normalizing and sustaining al-Maliki and his Dawa party who attacked and massacred the civil population in Iraq, we wouldn’t have ISIS today, and so on.
Now, all these lessons tell us that the United States is not interested in any political solution of the conflict in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan and Yemen, etcetera. Rather, as I argued before, again and again, the strategy of the United States is a permanent war. And this is the only way the United States can ensure at least the slowdown of the fall of the US Empire.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And I must add is that Amnesty International just, in October, issued a report asking the US Government to take responsibility for its own destruction and crimes against humanity, that it had conducted in Syria. But if you read the Western press, you don’t see very many references to that particular report by Amnesty.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, they can kill, massacre and commit genocide and so on with impunity. And then they are surprised that people fight back or hit back in a violent way. I mean… yeah, Happy New Year.
SHARMINI PERIES: Goodbye, 2016. Looking forward to the Trump Presidency ahead in terms of the challenges that are upon us. I thank you so much for joining us Sabah Alnasseri and I look forward to having you back in 2017.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real New Network.