Contrasting Tales of Two Besieged Cities

The U.S.-backed offensive to retake Iraq’s Mosul from the Islamic State is inflicting hardships on civilians, but the Western media treats this humanitarian crisis differently than the recent one in Aleppo, Syria, notes Steven Chovanec.

By Steven Chovanec

During the Syrian army’s offensive to retake the eastern part of Aleppo from the insurgent opposition, the Western media portrayed the assault as if Russia and Syria were carrying out a campaign primarily aimed at killing and harming civilians. The humanitarian crisis dominated headlines while key facts, such as Al Qaeda’s domination of the opposition forces and the way in which the militants had brutally conquered the city’s civilians, were marginalized or not reported at all.

U.S. soldiers fire an M109A6 Paladin from a tactical assembly area at Hamam al-Alil to support the start of the Iraqi security forces’ offensive in West Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 19, 2017. (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

A similar military offensive being carried out by the U.S. and its allies in the Iraqi city of Mosul reveals the hypocritical nature of Western news outlets, which portray their own countries’ actions as targeting only Islamic State terrorists and scrupulously avoiding harm to civilians.

There is no doubt that the siege in eastern Aleppo resulted in a humanitarian crisis for the civilian population trapped within the warzone. As the Washington Institute’s Fabrice Balanche described: “What the United Nations is describing [about] the humanitarian situation is correct: hospitals destroyed, people living in shelters, women and children trapped in the rubble, and so on.”

Yet in reality the destruction waged upon Aleppo was hardly different from what is now being done in Mosul as the U.S.-led coalition carries out a similar campaign of counterinsurgency and siege warfare.

Currently the Iraqi army, backed by U.S. airstrikes, is conducting a violent and brutal assault on the western parts of Mosul city in order to drive out the Islamic State. A whole population of civilians is trapped within an ongoing warzone and cut off from food supplies and basic necessities as the military offensive hits heavily populated areas killing civilians while destroying important infrastructure in the process, including hospitals.

Yet, while Western officials and media pundits vehemently condemned the Syrian assault on Aleppo, they are largely silent — or congratulatory and supportive — as the U.S. and its partners lay waste to the more heavily populated city of Mosul.

A senior Iraqi politician told veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn that “the Iraqi armed forces will eventually capture west Mosul … but the city itself will be destroyed in the fighting,” pointing to the massive destruction already inflicted upon eastern Mosul which was recently captured by the U.S.-backed forces.

So, even though the current U.S.-led siege has resulted in a larger humanitarian crisis in purely quantitative terms, the outcry over it is largely nonexistent. The trauma is reported on, but selectively, while the full extent of the civilian catastrophe is hidden from view.

For instance, The New York Times dedicated only two major stories to the offensive this month, yet flooded its pages with heartrending stories during the siege of Aleppo. In addition, coalition actions in Mosul that result in civilian casualties, like the destruction of hospital complexes, are depicted as justified or unintentional, compared to the portrayal of Syrian and Russian strikes in east Aleppo as intentional war crimes when similar complexes were hit or civilians killed.

Similarly, justifications for civilian suffering — scoffed at and ridiculed when made by Russia and Syria — are used without irony or shame to defend U.S. actions. Whereas the West’s media treated civilians in Aleppo as the targeted victims of the Russian-Syrian attacks, civilians in Mosul are described as “human shield” victims of Islamic State terrorists who also hoard food supplies and prevent civilians from escaping.

This is not to say that these accusations against the Islamic State are false, but similar Russian-Syrian claims against the Al Qaeda-dominated rebels in east Aleppo were brushed aside as lies and propaganda.

A Dire Situation

Without doubt, the conditions on the ground in ISIS-held western Mosul are dire. Aid groups warn that the situation has been deteriorating rapidly following a U.S.-backed coalition airstrike that destroyed the last remaining bridge leading out of the city, trapping the population and preventing supplies from entering. The coalition justified the attack as necessary to cut off ISIS from supply lines, but that also had drastic humanitarian implications.

U.S. Air Force senior airman secures a section of airfield outside a C-130H Hercules in Qayyarah, Iraq, Feb. 4, 2017. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

“Humanitarian conditions in the west of the city are deteriorating after supply routes were cut off in November when the east of the city was recaptured,” Oxfam reported. “An estimated 750,000 people are trapped in western Mosul without any safe means of escape from the latest military offensive.”

The result is that “up to 750,000 people in western Mosul city are estimated to remain largely inaccessible to humanitarians,” the U.N. warned, while “serious concerns remain for the protection of civilians in the west of the city, where food, water, medicine and fuel are running low.”

Patrick Cockburn, one of the few honest Western journalists reporting on the region, noted that “already shelling and airstrikes are causing heavy casualties among families sheltering in cellars or beneath the stairs in their houses.”

Writing for Middle East Eye, Nafeez Ahmed quoted Ross Caputi, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, describing “horror stories about civilian casualties coming out of Mosul. An aid worker friend of mine was trying to recruit volunteer doctors to work in a surgical unit in Erbil, where many of the more serious cases were being redirected. She told me that the situation is worse than it’s being portrayed in the media.”

Even more startling is evidence that the first week of March was characterized by a severe rise in civilian deaths as a result of U.S.-coalition actions, at the same time when major news outlets had drastically reduced coverage on the topic.

“The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State may have killed hundreds of civilians” in the first week of March alone, according to open source data compiled by Airwars, which estimates that “between 250 and 370 civilians have been killed” since March 1. Nafeez Ahmed explained this is “exponentially higher than the US count of just 21 civilian deaths from bombing since November 2016.”

Yet, instead of highlighting the humanitarian crisis and placing blame on U.S. and Iraqi forces for the misery, the Western media has portrayed the operation as assiduously avoiding harm to civilians. For example, the coalition strike severing the bridge was described as a victory against ISIS, while the humanitarian implications were downplayed or ignored.

One report described the destruction of the bridge as “a historic setback for the Islamic State as the terror group loses its grip on its Iraqi hub of Mosul,” with no mention of the harm to civilians. Another stated “American-led airstrikes damaged all five bridges last year in a bid to isolate the militants in Mosul.”

At least one of the ruined bridges was captured recently by Iraqi government forces. But U.S. Air Force Col. (and spokesman for the coalition) John Dorrian made it clear that bridges would be fully repaired “only after defeating ISIS,” choosing to intensify the humanitarian crisis by continuing a debilitating siege on the almost one million residents who are trapped.

Perhaps the destruction of bridges and siege warfare are warranted to isolate and defeat the Islamic State, yet when main news outlets deliberately hide the humanitarian implications of such actions and portray them merely as military victories without connection to the human suffering, they are engaged in manipulation of public perceptions which mobilizes support for state actions rather than objectively informing public opinion of the reality of the situation.

Stephen Gowanz summed up the nature of this media bias: “the United States and its allies have been practicing siege warfare in the Levant and beyond for years, and continue to do so. It’s just that US-led siege warfare has been concealed behind anodyne, even heroic, labels, while the siege warfare of countries Washington is hostile to, is abominated by Western state officials crying crocodile tears.”

Manufactured Consent

The reason for this hypocrisy is that the primary function of mass media in “free societies” is to serve as a system of propaganda. Under this “propaganda model” view of the media, one would expect Western coverage of the Mosul crisis to take for granted that the U.S. is carrying out its efforts in the service of benevolent ideals, with the goal of defending civilians from aggression and terrorism while making painstaking efforts to limit casualties.

U.S. Air Force sergeant waits to secure a load of cargo in a C-130H Hercules at Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq, Feb. 3, 2017. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

On the other hand, in the Aleppo case, one would expect Western media to act in the opposite fashion, taking for granted that civilian lives are treated with contempt and that motives are inherently suspicious or malevolent, while context and rational understanding of actions are marginalized or disregarded altogether.

When comparing coverage of these two stories, we see that this is exactly what you find, namely indignation directed at “enemy” military operations over civilian suffering and sympathy for U.S. and allied military assaults with the civilian casualties downplayed or rationalized.

Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky explain in their extensive study on media propaganda, Manufacturing Consent, that “while this differential treatment occurs on a large scale, the media, intellectuals, and public are able to remain unconscious of the fact and maintain a high moral and self-righteous tone. This is evidence of an extremely effective propaganda system.”

The question is how does this occur when the news media is not openly controlled by a state bureaucracy as in a totalitarian system but nonetheless achieves similar outcomes. An institutional analysis reveals that there exist various factors inherit within the structure of the media which essentially serve as a filter which sifts out inconvenient facts while propagating other information that is in accordance with the interests of the institution.

The basic structure of Western media is that the outlets themselves are powerful corporations with a profit-making goal. The product that they are selling are audiences, mostly wealthier and privileged people, as consumers of advertisements paid for by other major corporations. Given this reality, it’s not surprising that the news product reflects a worldview that is in alignment with corporate interests and prejudices, such as the military defense contractors and the military itself whose ads line the pages of major Western journals and consume significant ad time on TV.

It is in the interests of these pro-military entities for audiences to get a positive image of the U.S. military while creating an adverse image for foreign villains who can be collectively despised. It’s also understood that American audiences want to feel good about what the U.S. military is doing abroad, rather than being challenged with unpleasant truths.

Herman and Chomsky explain that this phenomenon of slanted reporting “is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of news-worthiness that conform to the institutions policy.”

The result is an extremely skewed media picture, which is determined by which side of the geopolitical struggle certain actions occur. In the cases of Mosul and Aleppo, the similarities of the tragedies that have devastated the two cities serve to further highlight the very dissimilar way in which the two stories have been reported.

Steven Chovanec is an independent geopolitical analyst and writer based in Chicago, IL.  He has a bachelors in International Relations and Sociology at Roosevelt University and conducts independent, open-source research into geopolitics and social issues.  His writings can be found at undergroundreports.blogspot.com, find him on Twitter @stevechovanec.

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18 comments for “Contrasting Tales of Two Besieged Cities

  1. mike k
    March 17, 2017 at 7:50 am

    War is truly hell. If we would hold onto any shred of civility, we must stop this now – before it consumes everything worth having and being. We are losing our humanity for oil and money.

    • Tom Welsh
      March 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      May I point out that your observation fails for lack of an essential distinction? It isn’t “we” (you) who are doing this. It is “they” – the psychopaths in charge of the US government.

      Now if only “we” (you citizens) could take back control of your nation and restore your republic… but that would be a hard, bloody struggle indeed – probably far worse than the Russian Civil War.

  2. Joe Tedesky
    March 17, 2017 at 8:47 am

    I always felt that immediately after the 911 attacks, when every American was ready and willing to chip in and do their part, President George W Bush told us all to go visit Disney World.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 17, 2017 at 10:38 am

      (I will finish my thought since I accidentally hit the post comment button to soon)

      I always felt that immediately after the 911 attacks, when every American was ready and willing to chip in and do their part how that when President George W Bush told us all to go visit Disney World, that something weird was up. Now after all these years it is clear to be me why our 911 president wanted us to stay uninvolved. This was to be a war fought from behind the curtain, nothing to see here move along. These wars of conquest had little to do to nothing to do with our American security to have a save homeland. Instead this constant war is an example of how a major world power can be hijacked right out from under it’s citizens noses, as to make way for the an aggressive empirical advance upon other people’s lands.

      We Americans must remember that by our having the strongest military ever in the history of mankind, we have been taken over by the likes of those who only wish to enrich themselves, and still call their greedy souls American. The same holds true of our allies and their own citizenry. In fact while the people who live in these hot spots of war are truly victimized we citizens of the NATO alliance and our Middle East coalition are held helpless and hostage to the evil barons of power who hover over us.

      I’m not sure any one president, or any one of anything can overcome this terrible gang of power hungry thiefs who’s only goal is to own it all. So now that Mosul puts the shoe on the other foot, will the American press give the Russians a reprieve? I doubt it, and so do you.

      • Sam F
        March 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

        Interesting idea that the US has been taken over by a “gang of power hungry thieves” precisely because we have “strongest military ever.” Having no chance of defeat makes the worst elements in a society seek to abuse of that power. And we do have primarily thieves in power. The “evil barons of power who hover over us” indeed offer a Disney World illusion of our evil recent history.

        • Joe Tedesky
          March 17, 2017 at 9:27 pm

          Sam F if you are already familiar with Tony Cartaluccie then forget the plug. Cartalucci seems to write a lot about the Deep State. If you go to the link provided search his name and read some of what Cartalucci has written.

          http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2012/10/zoa-seeks-to-manipulate-global-jewish.html

          We Americans just like many Jews, Europeans, and others within our elites realm are nothing more than a tax base for the demented hierarchy who ignores our needs in order to destroy any obstacle which blocks it’s path it mows for them the bastard rich to gain even more wealth, as the world spins out of control.

          Hate stirs division, and sells weapons by the score. False flags are derided as conspiracy theorists with over active imaginations, as evasive laws are put in place and overreaching surveillance becomes the norm. If your doubt starts to get the better of you, well then it’s time to wave the flag while singing the National Anthem before each game, while we pay tribute to the underfunded veteran and thank them for their service…that’s enough they say, as corporate logos light up the scoreboard.

          In the end our elites will worship at the base of the Golden Calf, and for the life of them they won’t be able to understand why we are not happy for them….if that day ever does come then the answer from us should be, you didn’t worry about us then, so why start worrying about us now, and then we rush the Bastille…viva la Freedom & Liberty, and independence to the people. And at that very moment we should start printing our own money, and be done with Them!

          • Sam F
            March 18, 2017 at 12:59 pm

            Understand that I do not have an ounce of racism or religious preference for or against Jews or their religion. I would be just as concerned if the problematical ones were giraffes or mystics in the Himalayas.

            The Cartalucci article rightly notes the “strategy of tension” between groups manufactured by those who would manipulate both. But those groups also have demagogues seeking power within their group by creating group enemies. Perhaps he intends to make zionists and their opponents suspicious of warmongers, not a bad idea.

            But his argument that zionists are not a primary group provoking war with Iran is not very convincing. He claims that unaffiliated rich imperialists control Brookings et al and use “disingenuous talking points” to sell its policies via distinct narratives to opposing audiences, zionist or otherwise.

            He states that the (Jewish) Pollock’s Brookings report “openly conspires to provoke a war with Iran” while admitting that it is not a threat to Israel, despite all that we know about Israel trying to break up the “Shiite Crescent” connecting Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. So we would have to suppose that Israeli zionists have been fooled by Brookings et al into perceiving a threat, unable think for themselves, and never, never influenced Brookings.

            He claims that Richard Perle “does not care about Israel” (only about money) although Perle worked with Israeli spies Feith and Wurmser under DefSec Wolfowitz (all Jews) to run the DIA, CIA, and NSA offices that created fake evidence for the Iraq War II. Those three had previously tried to persuade Netanyahu to support a plan of deception to trick the USA into Mideast wars for Israel. See Bamford’s Pretext for War.

            It appears to me that there are enough warmongers among the opposing groups to explain the problem, although some such as the MIC are unaffiliated. The zionists certainly do not lack the conspiratorial record to back any theory of their being primary agents of Mideast warmongering.

      • Tom Welsh
        March 17, 2017 at 12:49 pm

        “I’m not sure any one president, or any one of anything can overcome this terrible gang of power hungry thiefs who’s only goal is to own it all”.

        Certainly not a president who is part of the gang of thieves. Which means any president at all who is installed (notice I am careful not to say “elected”) by the present system, which is carefully designed to ensure that only members in good standing of the gang of thieves can even become candidates.

        • Joe Tedesky
          March 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm

          It’s like a Monty Python skit where there is only one choice but with different names. In fact all of my life I have been waiting for the pendulum to swing back in our direction, if ever it was in our direction in the first place. None of this would add up to be much more than something to talk about, but real people suffer as a result of our poor leaderships adventurous disasters. So much for voting.

          • Jon Doe
            March 20, 2017 at 7:53 am

            A smart guy once said: “If voting mattered, it would be illegal”.

      • Bill Bodden
        March 17, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        We Americans must remember that by our having the strongest military ever in the history of mankind,

        Strongest military ever in the sense of weaponry and firepower, but it has an Achilles Heel – the low levels of intelligence in its leadership. Vietnam – multiple times the power of the Viet Cong, but Westmoreland, McNamara and their brownnosers came up short. Iraq: Militias and the roots of the Islamic State made life untenable for our military and its British poodles. Afghanistan: Local resistance has the U.S. military and MICs European franchise bogged down in a quagmire. However, it isn’t a total disaster. Ronald Reagan sent a fleet to come up with a brilliant triumph over a few hundred Grenadans and Cubans. Poppy Bush followed by crushing a bunch of Panamanian cops to get Noriega. Bush, Cheney and Powell capped it off with the turkey shoot along the Iraq-Kuwait border. I kind of think there might have been a war crime or two committed there.

        • Joe Tedesky
          March 17, 2017 at 10:01 pm

          When I was five years old my dad brought around an old Englishman who was once a bare knuckle boxer in London, who’s boxing name was Kid Lorraine. Mr Homer was his real name and he was tall. After teaching me how to hit a punching bag, and realizing how he didn’t have much to work with he finally said, now Joey put your hand up in the air, and as I did this tall old boxer did the same, and then he said you Joey will never reach as high as me. Then he said put your arm down and as I did the Kid did as well, and then he said and I Joey will never be able to reach down as far as you. The old experienced fighter told me how you have to look at the opponents weakness, and my greatest advantage was to go in low, and that’s where to strike. Give it your best shot now, or prepare to run or defend yourself.

          Fighting an insurgency is probably one of the hardest enemies to fight. Surprise, and unaware, is lethal and wearisome to the troops morale. So when you go to war with what you got, then a blown up Humvee is what your get.

          Hope you don’t mind the story telling, but I hope it makes my point.

        • Joe Tedesky
          March 18, 2017 at 1:47 am

          Bill I saw this quote from a Vietnam era U.S. Rifleman;

          “We left with 72 men in our platoon and came back with 19, Believe it or not, you know what killed most of us? Our own rifle. Practically every one of our dead was found with his (M16) torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it.”

          —Marine Corps Rifleman, Vietnam

          We always speak to how the elite war hawk should be suited it up and send off to war, well yeah, and issue them the crappy equipment the government gives our troops and pays too much for, and then let’s see how quick peace is made.

          Our might is measured in dollars spend, not missions accomplished.

  3. Sam F
    March 17, 2017 at 9:00 am

    The reversal of media propaganda from the Aleppo seige by Russia proxies to the Mosul seige by the US proxies was predicted during the Aleppo seige.

    The writer claims simplistically that “alignment with corporate interests” is due merely to corporate ownership. Chovanec needs to do his homework on ownership of the mass media. This will require a few weeks if he has the right sources.

    I researched this in the 1980s and found that 40-60% of major newspapers were directly controlled by Jews, and the others almost never disagreed with their bias, and were indirectly controlled by advertising/marketing firms that were themselves so controlled and provided the budget. The only ones that had no apparent Jewish control were in New Jersey (all controlled by Italians) and Texas-Louisiana (where they were said to be controlled by oil companies). Because only half of Jews were then identifiable by surname, a declining percentage, and those in certain managerial positions (editing, advertising, circulation) have the most influence over content, the research has to be done carefully.

    The next level of research is the advertising/marketing firms that provide the budget of the mass media, and are already known to be predominantly Jewish controlled.

    The situation was steadily getting worse then, and is certainly worse now. This is not a conspiracy theory, it is the sad truth, readily verified by those who care for the truth. It is not a diatribe against Jews, most of whom are not involved, but a record of the tragedy of the response to fascism, which brings to power the fascist element among the victims, in this case the zionists.

    • the lion
      March 19, 2017 at 10:37 am

      If you were not aware Rupert Murdoch……News Limited has Oil rights given to him by the Israeli Government! Actually a War Crime but hey!

  4. Tom Welsh
    March 17, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    ‘A senior Iraqi politician told veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn that “the Iraqi armed forces will eventually capture west Mosul … but the city itself will be destroyed in the fighting”…’

    Ah, memories of Vietnam!

    “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”.

    Generals do not learn, do they?

  5. Jacq
    March 18, 2017 at 1:19 am

    So Occupied Palestine is our perspective, and Israel is the propaganda

  6. the lion
    March 19, 2017 at 10:35 am

    That is what happens when Al Nusra Front does as they are told and stays in Syria fighting who the US wants them to fight, IF they leave Al Nusra Front AKA Al Qaeda in Iraq and become ISIS then they are bad, doesn’t matter if they do exactly the same thing to civilians, doesn’t matter if their ideologies of religion are exactly the same doesn’t matter if they both blow up churches kill civilians with impunity as LONG as they stay in Syria they are safe from the US, As Long as they stay in Syria they will be supplied even with TOW missiles and soon Armored Personnel Carriers signed under a Trump executive order, proof positive that the US is a state sponsor of Terrorist groups up to and including Al Nusra Front formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq!

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