Belmont Club

After Mosul

The ruins of the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

ISIS territory is shrinking fast as forces besiege its last strongholds.  “Hundreds of civilians fled Mosul’s Old City on June 30 as Iraqi government forces slowly advanced against the last pockets of Islamic State (IS) resistance … The IS extremists on June 30 were also cut off and encircled in Raqqa, their self-declared capital in neighboring Syria.”

But the fighting is far from over.  Post-war restabilization will be needed not just in Syria, but over the whole region. Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) is probably trying to figure out who’s going to win the peace. “McGurk said “we want to make sure that what comes after Daesh is stable.  ‘And if you look at the record to date, coalition-backed operations in Iraq and Syria have cleared out about 60,000 sq km of territory. We’ve liberated over four million people.'”

What those four million are going to do with their new freedom is the question. The last significant areas under ISIS control shown in gray on the linked map are mostly a string of towns along the Euphrates river which they will soon lose but the survivors will die hard.  In a West Point study titled The Fight Goes On, authors Daniel Milton and Muhammad al-`Ubaydi noted that ISIS continue to carry out attacks even in areas formally liberated by the coalition such as the liberated “left side of Mosul, Iraq”.

Cities in Iraq appear to experience more post-liberation violence than do cities in Syria.  In the Iraqi cities in the dataset, the Islamic State predominately targets both Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias, with the peshmerga coming in at a distant third. In the Syrian cities, the Kurdish opposition is targeted in the large majority of Islamic State operations in liberated cities, with the Syrian regime a distant second.

Other belligerents besides ISIS are likely to emerge.  A possible flashpoint is a future Kurdistan.  US-backed forces control the yellow area in the linked map the along the Turkish border which is clearly co-extensive with the Kurdish autonomous region.  This potential breakaway area must worry Turkey — and Iran and Iraq.  The possessors of former ISIS territory will have money in the form of oil resources.  These, located in a triangle bounded by Homs,  Deir ez-Zur and Raqqa are likely to become the bone of future contention.

Money buys arms.  And in the region arms are rarely left unused. Anne Barnard of the New York Times are the current conflict is only a curtain-raiser.

most everyone else in Syria’s multifaceted war are looking ahead to an even more decisive battle in the south.

There, a complex confrontation is unfolding, with far more geopolitical import and risk. The Islamic State is expected to make its last stand not in Raqqa but in an area that encompasses the borders with Iraq and Jordan and much of Syria’s modest oil reserves, making it important in stabilizing Syria and influencing its neighboring countries.

Whoever lays claim to the sparsely populated area in this 21st-century version of the Great Game not only will take credit for seizing what is likely to be the Islamic State’s last patch of a territorial caliphate in Syria, but also will play an important role in determining Syria’s future and the postwar dynamics of the region.
With the stakes so high, the United States, Iran and Russia are all scrambling for advantage. They are building up their forces and proxy fighters and, increasingly, engaging in inflammatory clashes that threaten to escalate into a larger conflict.

“The Americans want to prevent the establishment of a ‘Shiite crescent’ of influence from Iran to Lebanon,” says on NYT source. “They will not allow the Iranians and those they support to have a victory at the expense of the Americans in the whole region.”  That means possible conflict with Syria, Iran and Russia.

Suddenly politicians are taking sides in Washington and not along the lines one would expect. “Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said Wednesday that President Trump does not have the authorization to use military force against the Syrian government,” reported the Hill.  Cardin said, Trump “should come to Congress and get the authorization for use of military force.”  That is fair enough even though Obama never did.  But it will be interesting to see how the political system and media can simultaneously try to restrain Trump from acting against Russia while claiming he is a stooge of the Kremlin.

What’s clear is that one act has ended though the second has not yet begun.  The actors, including the Democrats and Republicans in Washington are recalculating their interests, figuring out what parts to play. Will Russia suddenly become a good guy on the Left again?  Who can say.  For everyone the watchword will be: that was then, this is now.

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Books:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer. This book recounts Foer’s year-long quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of top “mental athletes.” He draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of remembering, and venerable tricks of the mentalist’s trade to transform our understanding of human memory. From the United States Memory Championship to deep within the author’s own mind, his journey reminds us that, in every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.

Magnum! The Wild Weasels in Desert Storm: The Elimination of Iraq’s Air Defence, by Brick Eisel and James Schreiner. This book is based upon a journal Schreiner kept during his deployment to the Persian Gulf region for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Building on that record and the recollections of other F-4G Wild Weasel aircrew, the authors show a slice of what life and war was like during that time.

Make: Electronics – Learning Through Discovery (2nd edition), by Charles Platt. This book is billed as a “hands-on primer for the new electronics enthusiast”. Second-edition additions include: photographically precise diagrams of breadboarded components, to help you build circuits with speed and precision; a new shopping guide and a simplified range of components to minimize your investment in parts for the projects; a completely new section on the Arduino that shows readers how to write properly structured programs instead of just downloading other people’s code. Full color is used throughout.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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