IS flee­ing Iraq for Syria

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - BY ROBERT FISK

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

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