IS fleeing Iraq for Syria
SYRIA’S army is preparing for an invasion of IS fighters who will be driven out of Iraq when Mosul falls. The real purpose behind the US-planned “liberation” of the Iraqi city, the Syrian military suspect, is to swamp Syria with IS fighters who will flee their Iraqi capital in favour of their “mini-capital” Raqqa in Syria.
But the Syrians – after witnessing the collapse of Palmyra when their army retook the ancient city earlier this year – suspect that IS will abandon Mosul and try to reach safety in the areas of Syria which it controls.
Already, Syrian army intelligence has heard disturbing reports of a demand by IS in towns and villages south of Hasaka for new electricity and water supplies to be installed for an influx of IS fighters from Mosul. In other words, if Mosul falls, the entire IS 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 IS fighters fled to Syria.
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader who sent thousands of his men to fight (and die) in the struggle against IS and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, said the Americans “intend to repeat the Fallujah plot when they opened a way for IS to escape to eastern Syria” and warned that “the same deceitful plan may be carried out in Mosul.” In other words, an IS defeat in Mosul would encourage IS to head west to try to defeat the Assad regime.
These suspicions have scarcely been allayed by comments from American generals and US military sources. The new 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 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 IS.
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 Western politicians and journalists as “the rebels”, along with the 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 to trap IS fighters inside Iraq – and thus prevent their flight into Syria. IS itself is reported to have abandoned Tal Afar several days ago.
The US-based Military Times online magazine argues that Gen Townsend, who has a mere 5,000 US troops on the ground in both Iraq and the far north of Syria, must “pursue IS into Syria, where the US has few allies on the ground” 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.
Robert Fisk of The Independent is based in Beirut. Comments: letters@thesundaily. com