The US is currently engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign against ISIS in Mosul city, Iraq. US officials and western media however castigated Syria and Russia for a very similar campaign in eastern Aleppo which drove out the insurgents who were dominated by al-Qaeda and supported by CIA-backed rebels. As I explained here, the primary goal of this propaganda campaign was to stop the Syrian army from defeating the opposition and taking east Aleppo, and failing that, to brand Syria and Russia as war criminals for having defeated the US-backed opposition in a strategically important city. This also served to direct attention away from inconveniences to US imperialism, such as their reliance on an opposition dominated by al-Qaeda and the brutal way they had conquered and subjugated Aleppo’s civilians.
It as well redirected the narrative so that the only option discussed to reduce the civilian suffering was to stop the Syrian army’s offensive. Other, more practical options which would have disadvantaged western imperialism, like the evacuation of civilians or pressuring insurgent groups to stand down, were therefore conveniently not considered. Hidden from view was the fact that America had essentially supported al-Qaeda’s policy of preventing civilians from fleeing and using them as human shields. By arguing that the civilians should be “allowed to stay in their homes” in an active warzone, they effectively endorsed the human shield policy and exploited the civilian suffering as this was advantageous and helped them to oppose the defeat of their insurgents. If the civilians had been evacuated, as had been proposed by Russia, there would have been nothing stopping the Syrian army from besieging the militants and western officials would not have been able to cry foul at their tactics. This is all part of a long history of the US and its allies opposing the separation of civilians from combatants as this would “be helping you [Syria and Russia] win.”
The painting of Syria and Russia as the bad guys helps distract from the fact that this policy results in civilian deaths and exploits human suffering for political ends, and redirects the public into thinking primary responsibility for the suffering rests on their enemy’s shoulders, and not theirs.
Another means of accomplishing this is to depict similar actions carried out by the US and its allies in a positive light. So, when the US carries out siege warfare against ISIS in Mosul, using the same tactics as Syria and Russia used against al-Qaeda in Aleppo, they are not portrayed as war criminals but as liberators. In addition, to maintain the narrative that the US and its clients are the white knights fighting against evil in the world key historical inconveniences showing US policy to be the cause of the current predicament are erased down the memory-hole. These help to explain the current situation but put the US under a bad light, and betray the fact that the military actions carried out by Russia and Syria actually have much more basis in legitimacy than US actions do.
How ISIS Came to Occupy Mosul
It must be remembered that the reason the US is in Iraq to begin with was because of an unjustified act of quite deliberate aggression and neo-colonialism based on completely false pretexts in order to gain a military footing in a strategically important Middle Eastern nation and to exploit its substantial energy resources. That act of aggression and subsequent war fanned the flames of violence and instability which created the conditions from which extremists like the Islamic State and its precursors were able to form and prosper. In addition the US policy of arming and financing the “moderate” opposition in Syria did much the same and led to the empowerment of radical Islamist groups from which the Islamic State itself was founded. The US then exploited the appearance of ISIS and utilized their formation as a means to attack their geopolitical enemies. For example, the US-coalition’s “anti-ISIS” airstrikes were conducted with the intent to push ISIS away from US-backed groups and allies (like in Kobani and Iraqi Kurdistan) while neglecting to strike them when battling the Syrian army or Hezbollah, as this would have help their enemies.
Similarly, the US took no action to stop the Islamic State from pushing into Iraq despite long-term prior knowledge in order to exploit its offensive as a means to pressure then Prime Minister al-Maliki to step down and install a more pliant ruler in his place.
Elijah J. Magnier, one of the most well informed Middle East journalists and the chief international correspondent for the Al Rai newspaper, explains that “as long as the aim of ISIS’s military activity and expansion was to occupy land in Iraq, governed by pro-Iranian Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (creating a weak state and much confusion in the Iraq-Iran relationship)” then “the ISIS presence in Iraq could be tolerated” by the US. This was further motivated by the fact that “in Iraq, al-Maliki’s main objective, following an Iranian request witnessed by the author, was to prevent the establishment of any US military base in the country.” The US therefore “did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in,” Obama explained, because “that would have taken pressure off of al-Maliki.” The resulting pressure from Iraq's military defeats to ISIS finally unseated the unwanted Prime Minister, the Wall Street Journal explaining: "After the rout of the Iraqi military that year, combined pressure from Washington and Tehran led the Iraqi parliament to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, seen in both capitals as responsible for the debacle, and to replace him with current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi."
The motivation behind standing by as ISIS claimed large swaths of land in order to depose an unwanted leader raises further questions about the nature in which Mosul was overtaken.
US intelligence had predicted the fall of the city to an “Islamic state” of some kind a full two years before it occurred, if, as explained, “the situation continues to unravel” and support to the opposition continued, which was mainly empowering jihadists. Yet the Syrian policy did continue, and only intensified in the years after. Thus, when ISIS attacked the city the Iraqi security forces of no less than 350,000 battle-hardened men simply “disintegrated and fled” in the face of roughly 1,300 lightly-armed jihadis. One of these Iraqi soldiers explaining that on the morning of June 10th his commanding officer “told the men to stop shooting, hand over their rifles to the insurgents, take off their uniforms, and get out of the city.”1
The town was simply handed over to ISIS by the Iraqi commanders. Many were quick to explain this as evidence of incompetence or disillusionment towards the political leadership, yet it could just as well have been an adjunct to a strategy of pressuring a change in government.
Two months after the June 2014 fall of Mosul to ISIS, al-Maliki stepped down as Prime Minister.
This is the history behind the ISIS occupation of Mosul that does not get reported. It, of course, not being the only explanation for the groups takeover of the city. Other factors, such as the post-invasion governmental repression of the country’s Sunni minority, US counterinsurgency efforts targeting large segments of the population under false pretexts of being “al-Qaeda adherents”, and systematic torture and abuse by the US military all contributed to the deep sectarian tensions and legitimate grievances which have empowered extremism and helped solidify ISIS’ hold over the country.
Yet now, like the arsonist who comes to extinguish the fire, the US is engaged in another bloody military operation that is wreaking havoc on a civilian population in order to eradicate the original problem of the Islamic State occupying Mosul city, a situation which their own policies helped to create.
On the other hand, Syria is fighting against a foreign-backed insurgency dominated by extremists like al-Qaeda, which is being supported by the world’s leading superpower and other powerful allies. Russia, apart from its other crimes, is operating in Syria in full accordance with international law and is assisting an ally who is being attacked by foreign powers. The US-led coalitions actions against the Islamic State in Syria are illegal and in violation of international law and various UN resolutions and in places like Iraq have no base in legitimacy, especially given the history of coalition members' support for the group in the first place.
Syria, therefore, has a much stronger argument for the use of military force within their territory. The fact that the media continually fail to mention this, is also quite telling.
1.) Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of the Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, pg.15.