The real reason Trump wants to defeat ISIS in Mosul: To deny Iran glory and ‘take Iraq back'
‘Low hanging fruit’ is a term which springs to mind when thinking of America’s short-term goals in Iraq. The rise of ISIS in many ways can be attributed to failed US policy going back to 2003 when George W. Bush took the spectacular decision to stop paying the salaries of some 500,000 largely Sunni soldiers. They were left without jobs and pay in the post ‘liberated’ phase of early occupation by US troops in the country. Fast forward to 2008 when Obama trumped the mistake with an even better one – for US soldiers to pull out of Iraq – and two key events unfolded which in part go some way in explaining why Donald Trump’s unfettered focus on crushing ISIS in Mosul is so important. But not necessarily for the reasons, he states.
Firstly, what is considered ISIS today emerged from Mosul, as the ancient town was always a bedrock for Saddam Hussein’s hardcore supporters who formed Al-Qaeda which controlled the city as early as 2012. So the location itself has special significance as the birthplace of regional terrorism. Secondly, consequently, Iraq became almost immediately an Iranian satellite as, buckling under pressure from hardcore Shiite leaders, Prime Minister Abadi had little choice other than to accept the hand of support from Tehran when quite suddenly a great part of the country – mainly the Sunni western flank – became occupied by the extremists. It’s important to remember that in the early days ISIS had more support from civilians in Mosul, Ramadi, and Falluja than at present.
And it’s this last point which might explain why Iraqi special forces fighting ISIS in Mosul do not want to allow humanitarian corridors as they are afraid that many ISIS fighters might use them themselves – but more importantly that ISIS sympathizers will also flee.
What is often overlooked by the media is that Mosul is important for Trump as his grand scheme in the Middle East is to weaken Iran methodically - and in Iraq, he has found in Prime Minister Abadi, a willing partner who shares the same viewpoint. The Iraqi leader is floundering politically and badly needs to assure Sunnis there that Iran – and the influential Shiite leaders – will no longer wield the power that they had in the period from 2008 to present as Iraq is about to go back to being a US partner geopolitically.
It’s not a huge triumph by any stretch of the imagination, more a cheap victory for Trump to take. It is there to be taken, though. All of what we have seen in recent weeks, from the James Mattis' visit to US soldiers being posted to the front line, to high-level talks with Abadi and other top officials, and even the more recent U-turn on banning Iraqis from traveling to the US, is all about this small but important first geopolitical step that Trump must take: Get Iraq back.
Aside from the hysteria about a war with Iran, which Trump knows he cannot win as the number of body bags being shipped home to the US would destroy him politically, focusing on destabilizing Iran’s influence in the region is more likely to be the sober approach which he will prefer to take.
US special forces operating in Yemen just recently is a glimpse of the future, as are American soldiers leading a multinational force in Syria in the future, euphemistically referred to as the ‘safe zones’ plan which is still yet to be unveiled, but believed to be complete. The recent news announced that he is mulling over a plan to send 1,000 US soldiers to Kuwait for an anti-ISIS operation is an indicator of where his strategy is leading.
Trump’s master plan will be to undermine and chip away at Iran’s power in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, with Iraq being the easiest one to start with as nailing ISIS in Mosul should be relatively straightforward and buy him tomes of PR coverage back home: ‘I said I would hit ISIS. I just hit ISIS.'
But the US president is less bothered with the terrorist organization. Despite the fanfare, I would argue that ISIS is not at all important, per se, as the subject of the focus of getting rid of ISIS is more about creating fake news about Iran and its proxies and producing ‘alternative facts’ for sloppy journalists in the US. ISIS was never a focus of the Obama administration rather than the removal of Assad, a mindset mirrored by the Trump team: Assad is part of Iran’s power base which Trump and Mattis are so threatened by, according to a bevy of recent reports in the US media.
From what we have seen, ISIS is still not a focus for America in Syria, despite news this week of a force of a few hundred soldiers to be sent to Iraq. Put into context, George W Bush sent 130,000 US troops to Iraq in 2003.
What probably irks Trump is that in almost every other battlefield across Iraq and Syria it is Russia, Syria and in particular Iran which has been hitting ISIS the most – a point made by many geopolitical analysts, like Professor Mohamed Morandi who recently said as much on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ show. The Iranian academic, who studied in the US, makes a strong case, no doubt one which must not jar well with the recent statement by Mattis: “Iran is the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.” If Trump can maneuver Iran out of the ISIS war, then this incorrect assertion, a triumph of absurdity which is up there with his preposterous claims about rising US crime levels and climate change, will have more gravitas than it presently does with the American public.
Incredulously, most American media outlets lap the Iran line up. ‘State-sponsored terrorism’ is supposed to be a ‘geopolitics for dummies’ one-fits-all explanation for Hezbollah having the nerve to defend themselves against Israel in 2006 – and give the Israelis a bloody nose.
Western media doesn’t even try and grasp that Hezbollah (Iran’s proxy) is at war with Israel. And it’s just so much easier to call the army which is Uncle Sam’s buddy and which is the highest recipient of US military aid a legitimate sovereign state and Hezbollah ‘terrorists’, right?
The Trump viewpoint on Iran and its activities in the region is even more absurd and blinded by dogma.
What few journalists will even bother to check, let alone report on, is that Mosul is a gift from the Iranians whose militias did all the really tough fighting in Ramadi and Fallujah before Mosul, which became the extremists’ last chance saloon; in the period while those other towns were fought over and liberated, US soldiers trained an elite Iraqi antiterrorism unit which is doing the lion’s share of the fighting in Mosul today. It’s seldom reported that Iran and Hezbollah gave the Americans the time they needed so they could have their one PR triumph in Mosul. Abadi in Iraq would not be in a position to deny the Iranians the prize of Mosul if they insisted on taking it. But they stepped back, and Obama filled the void in his last months in office.
It’s news that you could hardly makeup, it’s so odd: Mosul’s victory was crafted by Obama and given to Trump on a plate by Iran and Hezbollah.
In fact, it’s a similar story in Syria. Most of the key battles which kept Assad in power and denied the country being taken over by extremists like ISIS and Nusra were fought by Iran and Hezbollah, starting off with Al-Qusair in 2013.
But many more after that.
Naturally, that’s not a straightforward fact which Trump’s people neither like nor acknowledge: ISIS and Nusra would be running Syria if it weren’t for the Iranians and Hezbollah who have probably killed more ISIS and Nusra terrorists than anyone else.
But Trump is unlikely to acknowledge that when, in the coming months, Mosul finally falls and he can take the credit for America’s ‘victory’ over ISIS. Iraq must be liberated not only from ISIS but also Iran’s firm grip which in the short-term Mosul will allow to happen. In the long run though, Trump will have to work out a new PR strategy of fake news and alternative facts when America’s own troops get caught in yet more crossfire in Iraq when Shiites under the powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr lose their patience with a new US ‘occupation’ and, inevitably, drag the US into yet another regional conflict. If Trump leaves a good number of US soldiers in Iraq to help Abadi contain the threat of a new ISIS emerging in the Sunni heartlands, then American soldiers being killed is a price Trump should be prepared to pay even though there is so little to glean in the longer term.
And so far, there are indications that he is willing to pay it. In the meantime, despite trying to imitate a Middle East despot by treating journalists with this splenetic contempt which is normal in many of the failed states in this part of the world, he needs to re-write the history books, so will be looking for some ‘call-center’ journalists in DC to help him with manufactured fake news about Iran, of which there are many. Take your pick.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.