Wednesday, 19 October 2016

US and Saudis grant 9,000 ISIS fighters free passage from Iraqi Mosul to Syria

When Mosul falls Isis will flee to the safety of Syria.But what then?
Robert Fisk

18 October, 2016

Syria’s army and Hezbollah and Iranian allies are preparing for a massive invasion by thousands of Isis fighters who will be driven out of Iraq when Mosul falls. The real purpose behind the much-trumpeted US-planned "liberation" of the Iraqi city, the Syrian military suspect, is to swamp Syria with the hordes of Isis fighters who will flee their Iraqi capital in favour of their "mini-capital" of Raqqa inside Syria itself.

For weeks now, Western media and the American experts it likes to quote have been predicting a Stalingrad-style battle to the death by Isis inside Mosul – or a swift victory over Isis followed by inter-sectarian Iraqi battles for the city. The UN is warning of massive refugee columns streaming from a besieged city. But the Syrians – after witnessing the sudden collapse and evacuation of Palmyra when their own army retook the ancient Syrian city earlier this year – suspect that Isis will simply abandon Mosul and try to reach safety in the areas of Syria which it still controls.

Already, Syrian army intelligence has heard disturbing reports of a demand by Isis in towns and villages south of Hasaka – a Syrian city held by regime forces and Kurds in the north of the country – for new electricity and water supplies to be installed for an influx of Isis fighters from Mosul. In other words, if Mosul falls, the entire Isis caliphate army could be directed against the Assad government and its allies – a scenario which might cause some satisfaction in Washington. When the Iraqi city of Fallujah fell to Iraqi army and militia forces earlier this year, many Isis fighters fled at once to Syria.

Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader who sent thousands of his men to fight (and die) in the struggle against Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, said in a speech marking the Ashura commemorations last week that the Americans “intend to repeat the Fallujah plot when they opened a way for Isis to escape towards eastern Syria” and warned that “the same deceitful plan may be carried out in Mosul.” In other words, an Isis defeat in Mosul would encourage Isis to head west to try to defeat the Assad regime in Syria.

These suspicions have scarcely been allayed by a series of comments from American generals and US military sources over the past few weeks. The newly appointed US commander in the region, Lt Gen Stephen Townsend – heading what the US has presumptiously called ‘Operation Inherent Resolve’ – has said that not only Mosul but the Syrian city of Raqqa would be captured “on my watch”. But who exactly does he think will capture Raqqa? The Syrian army still intends to fight on to Raqqa from its base on the the Damascus-Aleppo military road west of the city after an attempt earlier this year which was abandoned for political rather than military reasons. Russia apparently preferred to concentrate its firepower on other militias, especially Nusra/al-Qaeda, which both Moscow and Damascus now regard as being far more dangerous than Isis.

Both have noticed how Nusra – which changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the "Support Front for the People of the Levant", in the hope of escaping its al-Qaeda roots – is increasingly referred to by both Western politicians and journalists as “the rebels”, along with a plethora of other militia outfits fighting the Syrian regime. An unidentified US general was quoted last month expressing his concern that Iraqi Shia forces might seize the town of Tal Afar on the Iraqi-Syrian border in order to trap Isis fighters inside Iraq – and thus prevent their flight into Syria. Isis itself is reported to have abandoned Tal Afar several days ago.

The US-based Military Times online magazine (which, as the saying goes, is "close" to the Pentagon) has argued that General Townsend, who has a mere 5,000 US troops on the ground in both Iraq and the far north of Syria, must “pursue Isis into Syria, where the US has few allies on the ground” – which is quite an understatement – while Townsend himself is talking of “a long, difficult fight” for Mosul. He has also referred to a “siege” of Mosul. These are the dire predictions in which the Syrians do not believe

Assad’s own army, with its 65,000 fatalities in a battle that has now lasted five years, has already been bombed by the Americans at Deir Ezzor at a cost of at least 60 dead – Washington described this as a mistake – and is now preparing to challenge the huge influx of Isis fighters which could cross the border after the collapse of Mosul. Nasrallah himself made an intriguing allusion to this in his speech. He suggested that if Isis forces are not defeated by the Iraqis themselves in Mosul then the Iraqis – presumably the Iraqi Shia militia which are one of the spearheads of the government army – “will be obliged to move to eastern Syria in order to fight the terrorist group”.

Given the possibility that Syrian troops and their Russian allies may have to confront this same group, it’s little wonder that they are trying to conclude their capture of eastern Aleppo – whatever the cost in lives – before the fall of Mosul.


The US-led coalition’s warplanes are ingoring military convoys of the ISIS terrorist group moving from Mosul in the Iraqi province of Nineveh to Syria, the Irainian Fars News Agency reported citing a source in the predominantly Shia Popular Mobilization Units (PMU or Hashd al-Shaabi).
Much surprised the ISIL convoys that have been escaping from Mosul to Syria have not come under attack by the coalition fighter jets,” Fars News Agency quoted the source as saying.
The source reportedly noted that  ISIS is now confused in Mosul and the Iraqi forces have obtained lots of information about the terrorists’ positions in the city.
We recall, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced the official start of operation to liberate Mosul from ISIS on Monday.

ISIS in Mosul may use chemical weapons & 1,000s of civilians as human shields – IOM

Displaced people who fled Mosul are pictured at a refugee camp in Duhok, Iraq, October 16, 2016. © Ari Jalal
Displaced people who fled Mosul are pictured at a refugee camp in Duhok, Iraq, October 16, 2016. © Ari Jalal / Reuters

18 October, 2016

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has sounded an alarm amidst the carnage surrounding the recapture of Mosul, Iraq, where there are fears Islamic State militants will unleash chemical attacks and use tens of thousands as human shields.

Meanwhile, contingency plans are being implemented at national and international levels. Speaking by phone, IOM’s chief of mission for Iraq, Thomas Weiss, told Reuters there are forecasts that the offensive will cause displacement on a massive scale, as the Iraqi military has now reached the outskirts of Iraq’s second largest city.

"Tens of thousands of people may be forcibly expelled, they will be getting trapped between fighting lines under siege, they may be even held as human shields," he said, as cited by Reuters.

Weiss added that IOM staff have been stocking up on gas masks since rumors began circulating about an imminent gas attack, but they’ve found few so far. “We also fear, and there has been some evidence that ISIL (Islamic State, IS, formerly ISIS) might be using chemical weapons. Children, the elderly, disabled, will be particularly vulnerable,” he said.

© Stringer

Still, according to the White House, holding back on an all-out assault on Mosul would prove to be detrimental, and would not save lives.

I think the first thing for us to acknowledge… is that, while ISIL has been in charge of Mosul, they have engaged in a violent campaign to bring that city under their control. They’re killing civilians all the time,”Josh Earnest told a press briefing. “So, the idea that we – that somehow the Iraqi security forces – should delay the operation because of their concern or the humanitarian situation in Mosul, that doesn’t make sense.”

Earnest went on to say that coalition forces will nonetheless work to save as many lives as possible, while bringing up the UN’s earlier announcement that it was undertaking measures to address“significant or widespread humanitarian concerns.” Tents have reportedly been set up, and there is “a lot of planning” to provide food, water and other essential items to people fleeing the conflict zone, Earnest said.

Others at a national level have also been looking at contingency measures, like France, which will hold a meeting on October 20 to discuss stabilizing Mosul after the fighting.

For Raqqa, a similar method will be needed to Mosul. It will take time and political will, but we have to organize ourselves,” Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told a diplomatic press briefing on Tuesday. “We can’t let Islamic State reconstitute itself or strengthen to create an even more dangerous hub. We have to prepare ourselves,” he dded.

The new offensive has also sparked warnings and speculation as to how IS may react once Mosul is done – whether it will spread to other parts of Syria, or whether the fall of the city will precipitate a mass exodus of militants to Europe.

As far as I know, the city is not fully encircled,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday. I hope it’s because they simply couldn’t do it, not because they wouldn’t do it. But this corridor poses a risk that Islamic State fighters could flee from Mosul and go to Syria.

The Russian FM’s remarks come just as the Syrian government said it is certain that the US-led coalition is planning to let IS fighters slip through.

We will be evaluating the situation and take decisions of both political and military nature if this happens,” Lavrov added. “I hope the US-led coalition, which is actively engaged in the operation to take Mosul, will take it into account.”
The battle is now in its second day, and there are already unconfirmed reports of militants securing deals to flee the city among the civilians.

Islamic State seized Mosul in June of 2014, when it was Iraq’s second-largest city. The terror group’s leader then turned it into a major military stronghold, and it is believed that between 4,000 and 8,000 IS militants are entrenched there, according to Reuters.

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