By Scott Taylor
For those closely following the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, it would appear that the days of the self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh (aka ISIS or ISIL) are coming to an end. Backed by Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his loyalist forces have had recent success against the Daesh forces based in and around the city of Raqqa.
Some reports suggest that embattled Daesh fighters have sought to desert the current fight and join the ranks of al-Qaeda instead. However, I’m not sure how, in the bigger picture, this change of alliance will matter squat given that both Daesh and al-Qaeda are fundamentalist Sunni extremist evildoers.
However, in the same way that the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President made George W. Bush appear like a sage statesman by comparison, Daesh atrocities somehow have made al-Qaeda seem like a more reasonable brand of Islamic terrorists. But I digress.
In Iraq, the U.S.-led international alliance has stepped up its siege of the Daesh-held city of Mosul. This combat offensive is now well into its seventh month, and Canadian special forces soldiers have been playing an active role in assisting the Kurdish militia in that quest. The reason for such a lengthy battle can only be partially attributed to the fanaticism of the Daesh defenders. It is now estimated that there are less than 1,000 Daesh fighters holding on to approximately 30 per cent of the western part of Mosul. The eastern half of the city was reported as being fully liberated by the alliance in late January.
To keep their fighters loyal to the cause, Iraqi news reported that Daesh has begun lopping off the ears of those suspected to be plotting surrender or desertion. This seems like a hell of a way to enforce loyalty, but if nothing else it should make it easy to identify these one-eared individuals after the battle.
The final stronghold of Daesh in Iraq is in the old city of Mosul which, with its labyrinth of narrow streets, will prove a nightmare for the alliance attackers.
It is of course reluctance on the part of the allied units to endure that nightmare that has led to the snail’s pace of the overall siege. Although the assorted hodgepodge of allied units outnumbers the remaining Daesh forces groups by something like 25 to 1, the fact is that all of these disparate groups are fighting for a different ultimate objective.
There are American advisors and troops on the ground, and the U.S. is coordinating the massive aerial armada, which includes Canadian refueler and reconnaissance aircraft. The U.S. policy is to support the corrupt regime of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in securing a unified, Daesh-free, Iraq under a central Baghdad authority. That is also the stated intent of Global Affairs Canada.
While al-Abadi is a Shiite, many of the Shiite militia assisting in the siege of Mosul are waging a punitive offensive against the Sunni followers of Daesh, in the name of a holy war. Revenge atrocities committed by the Shiite militias in the early stages of the Mosul offensive have cast doubt upon their suitability for any post-victory occupation role.
Also on the ground are a large number of Iranian military advisors who are working directly with the Shiite militias.
Then of course you have the Kurdish militia, which have been tutored by some of Canada’s most professional commandos. But these Kurds are not fighting to liberate the Sunni Arab residents of Mosul from the Sunni Arab Daesh extremists. They are instead fighting to increase Masood Barzani’s bargaining position in the Kurdish quest for an independent state. Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and he has been adamant from the get-go that he has no intention of ever returning to a unified Iraq under the control of al-Abadi.
The allied commanders have vowed that they will liberate the remainder of Mosul within the next three weeks. With the elimination of their common enemy, the power struggle among the various allies is sure to erupt. Rather than sticking around to pick sides, Canada would be wise to pull out our trainers and leave the future of Iraq and Syria to the regional stakeholders and the world’s superpowers.
Not our fight.