A Victory in Mosul Could Help Clinton

If a U.S.-backed coalition drives the Islamic State from Mosul, Iraq, before the U.S. elections, the victory could boost Hillary Clinton’s campaign and undercut Donald Trump’s criticisms, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

The liberation of Mosul ahead of the Nov. 8 U.S. election would boost Hillary Clinton’s chances and enhance the legacy of her chief proponent, Barack Obama. As preparations continue to intensify for a major military operation to free Iraq’s second largest city from ISIS’s grip, talk here 55 miles away in Erbil is that the operation could be launched on Oct. 15.

A source who speaks regularly to residents of Mosul told me that ISIS militants have virtually disappeared from the streets of the city. Where before they were out in numbers enforcing their extreme version of Sharia law (you could be executed for smoking a cigarette), they are now hardly to be seen. The residents aren’t sure what’s going on. But it could mean ISIS fighters have begun evacuating ahead of the attack.

President Barack Obama walks from Marine One upon arrival on the White House South Lawn, July 5, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Barack Obama walks from Marine One upon arrival on the White House South Lawn, July 5, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

This is what happened in June when, after initial fighting, ISIS deserted Fallujah allowing the Iraqi army and Shia militias to take the city. Then last month, ISIS extremists abandoned the oil town of Qayyara, just 48 miles south of Mosul, ahead of advancing Iraqi army units. The militants released petroleum into the streets and set it on fire as they retreated.

Preparations are being made outside Erbil for an influx of refugees from Mosul that could number as many as 500,000, according to Stephen O’Brien, the U.N.’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. Another million people could flee elsewhere to the Kurdish region.

If the reports of vanished ISIS militants from the streets of Mosul are correct, occupying the city may come without the immense civilian casualties that would almost certainly result from U.S. aerial bombardments and house-to-house fighting.

Meetings among Iraqi Kurdish authorities, Baghdad officials and Americans have intensified here in the Kurdish capital and in Baghdad. The aim is to avoid a clash over who gets to control Mosul once it is taken. The city is a mix of Sunni Arabs and Kurds, as well as several other minority groups.

Relations between Baghdad and Erbil have been severely strained for several years over the control of oil and territory. The Kurds have been selling petroleum on their own through Turkey, cutting off revenue to the central government. In response Baghdad has cut off all government revenues to the region. The Kurds have long sought independence from Baghdad but have been prevented by the U.S. from going ahead with a referendum.

Kurdish peshmerga forces have been accused of seizing control of Arab majority towns that they have liberated from ISIS. Amnesty International reported that the Kurds have raised houses to prevent Arab Iraqis from returning.

Divided Allies

The fear is that the real battle will be between Kurdish and Iraqi Army units after ISIS leaves Mosul, the biggest prize in the war to rid Iraq of the Islamic State. Such a bloody fight, especially if Mosul is taken relatively peacefully, would undermine the narrative of the Obama administration’s triumph.

A Russian orchestra performs a concert at Palmyra's ancient Roman theater on May 5, 2016, after Syrian troops, backed by Russian air power, reclaimed the ancient city from the Islamic State. (Image from RT's live-streaming of the event)

A Russian orchestra performs a concert at Palmyra’s ancient Roman theater on May 5, 2016, after Syrian troops, backed by Russian air power, reclaimed the ancient city from the Islamic State. (Image from RT’s live-streaming of the event)

So the U.S. is sending 600 more troops to help coordinate logistics for the attack, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Wednesday. There are already 4,400 U.S. troops throughout Iraq.

ISIS has controlled Mosul since July 2014. Where they would flee to, if they are indeed leaving the city ahead of the operation, is another issue. It could further complicate the war in neighboring Syria, whose border is less than 180 miles from Mosul, if they retreat there. Raqqah, the so-called Syrian capital of the Islamic State, is only 290 miles away.

The U.S. effort against ISIS has been focused more on Iraq than Syria. Obama announced his air war against the group when it came within a few miles of capturing Erbil in the summer of 2014. U.S. air power and the peshmerga pushed them back towards Mosul.

U.S. operations in Syria, on the other hand, have been questionable. It has appeared that the U.S. has largely left ISIS alone as it advances there. For instance, Washington did nothing to stop ISIS’s capture of Palmyra, which was liberated by the Syrian government with Russian help earlier this year.

If in fact ISIS has been allowed to play a role in Washington’s goal of “regime change” in Damascus, the influx of ISIS fighters from Iraq would put additional pressure on the Syrian government. It could also help create the conditions for the quagmire that the U.S. seems so intent on getting the Russians into.

The liberation of Mosul, especially without a fight, would be trumpeted as a major victory for the legacy of Obama’s beleaguered foreign policy and indirectly a boost for Hillary Clinton. Though she hasn’t been Secretary of State for four years, Clinton is still closely associated with Obama White House.

The expulsion of ISIS from Mosul could undermine Donald Trump’s insistent criticism of the Obama administration’s failure to deliver a knockout punch to the extremists.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached [email protected]  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.

9 comments for “A Victory in Mosul Could Help Clinton

  1. Yonatan
    October 1, 2016 at 15:10

    ISIS/Daesh/whatever doesn’t ‘abandon’ places. It moves out because its paymaster, the US, tells it to. They are usually replaced by another US proxy e.g. the Kurds.

  2. John Doe II
    September 30, 2016 at 15:03

    Trump is Personification of who-we-are as a nation; “The World-Wide Superior Force For Good”
    A savior and sustainer of the (highly esteemed) American Way of Truth, Justice and EQUALITY.
    ( smell the gunfire )

    So. Now the “mod squad” of jihadists are our teammates in the magic of making Syria disappear into historical oblivion.

    The one we created in Iraq accepted the nomenclature “Sunni Rising” or something like that as, suddenly/mythologically,

    We were on the same side, teammates !!! What economic price do we pay for these hired Sunni mercenaries!!! ?

    Why accept never-ending charades /propaganda as if our security-dependency is based on weak acquiesce to privilege?
    Mosul will without doubt fall and our mercenary force of “moderates” and, their families will morph, via studied emulation,

    into Real Americans, living in their own enclaves, separate but/however, unequal to the dominant culture, as the world turns

    we spent BILLIONS on space travel – rocket science, medical science expansion, and Wars and they die by our hand.

    This is America.

  3. Exiled off mainstreet
    September 30, 2016 at 11:57

    Since it is obvious that the harpy and the neocons are supporting war in Syria in defence of el qaeda it is difficult to see how a defeat of the same organisation in Iraq really helps Clinton, since this will highlight her support of them in Syria. No matter what happens in Mosul, the record reveals Hillary’s role as a war criminal in Libya and the links her Libyan “victory” have to the rise of ISIS, el qaeda, or whatever you choose to call them in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the fact she is willing to risk war with Russia to defend her raghead auxiliaries reflects not only on her but on those who choose despite this monumental stupidity and treason to support her. We know who is supporting the civilized element and who is arming the barbarians. The recent Todenhoefer interview appearing in the German mainstream magazine Focus (second only to Spiegel in circulation) takes the mask off the US (and Clinton) effort. Do we really want World War III against the Russians on behalf of supporting the same crew supposedly the target of the “war on terror?” This is beyond Orwell, since survival is at stake and is almost strangelovian in its black comedy aspects.

    • Joe Lauria
      September 30, 2016 at 12:02

      It may be to you and others who read this site, but it is not obvious to the average American voter.

    • Joe Tedesky
      September 30, 2016 at 16:20

      Exiled off mainstreet, not to pile on, but Mr Lauria is right. The average American doesn’t seem to follow any of this America at war stuff that close. EOM if you have friends like mine, surely you would have experienced this lack of knowledge among the people you interact with on a normal basis. Many a times I feel strange being the only one in the room who does know what is going on with all of this American involvement in the world, and I feel reluctant to say anything out of fear that people just won’t believe me. The one thing I do know about these average people, is they fear ISIS. Lately, the same people are fearful of Putin, and Russia. I do try to straighten them out, but often I notice there skepticism by their facial expressions, and walk away kind of knowing how they just think I am a Putin lover, and that’s that. Always enjoy reading your comments Exiled off mainstreet, so don’t be offended by my remarks. What you wrote is true, and that’s what counts.

      • Tom
        October 1, 2016 at 12:03

        Joe you are right. I feel the same way. The average American is totally oblivious to these wars. that is the sad state of US Media. A democracy cannot function with an electorate that is not well educated in what is happening. The government line is all they hear…Putin/Russia/China/Iran/Syria bad and the US/NATO good. very scary.

      • William
        October 1, 2016 at 18:22

        It will be difficult if not impossible for you to “straighten” your friends out as long as the mainstream media in the U.S., both print and electronic, is committed to supporting U.S. govt positions. The media are no longer informative; they are a giant propaganda
        machine for support of Israel and for war with Iran. Or Russia. Or China.
        I have tried to inform my friends, but their ignorance and indifference to actual events makes it practically impossible.

    • Sam F
      September 30, 2016 at 20:25

      Yes, it is quite strangelovian, and quite a strange love of power for its own sake, and lying for its own sake. There appears to be a competition to make most obviously and extremely false lies without being exposed by state media.

      Such contradictions often signal a reverse, and I wish that Syria and Russia would see an opportunity to work with KSA, Egypt, and Jordan to let ISIS and AlQaeda surround Israel, which should be their real target, in the Sunni heartland, and become the homeland security department of Palestine. Then their struggle would make sense to everyone but our zionist traitors, and we would see how fast the USG deserts them to stay on the zionist payroll.

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