Aleppo/Mosul Update, October 21


The biggest development in Mosul today didn’t happen in Mosul. ISIS fighters managed to launch a substantial attack on the Kurdish-controlled (since 2014, anyway) city of Kirkuk that has killed at least 18 people and appears to be ongoing. The attack on Kirkuk was staged from Hawija, an ISIS-controlled city south of Mosul, and seems clearly intended to pull Kurdish forces away from Mosul in order to defend what is undoubtedly a more important city from their perspective.

The Iraqis seem to think that operations around Mosul are proceeding more quickly than expected, which could be a sign that they’re going too fast and need to slow down and consolidate gains. Unless the Kirkuk situation resolves itself soon, they may not have a choice but to slow down in order to deal with it. It wouldn’t do to lose Kirkuk in the process of trying to regain Mosul, and frankly the fact that ISIS was able to launch an attack of this apparent scope from Hawija brings into question whether the Mosul operation should have been started before clearing up that area.

Elsewhere, there are reports that ISIS has begun killing civilians and destroying buildings inside Mosul, which should serve as a reminder of the impending-but-probably-unavoidable humanitarian disaster that the advance on Mosul is about to create. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that Ankara and Baghdad have reached an agreement “in principle” that would allow Turkish forces currently based near Bashiqa to participate in the Mosul operation. What this sounds like is that Turkey and Iraq agreed to agree that Turkey can be involved, without doing much to sort out how it can be involved. So expect that this is going to be a recurring problem moving forward. Also, while we’re mentioning the US, it should be noted that a soldier who was killed yesterday by an IED became the first American combat casualty of the Mosul offensive, which is odd considering that America officially doesn’t have any combat forces in Iraq, but I digress.


It appears that Russia has decided to extend its dawn-to-dusk ceasefires over Aleppo for a third day. The UN is intimating that Russia has agreed to extend the ceasefire for two days, but the Russians seem to be holding on to the possibility of resuming strikes if they feel threatened in some way. Either way it looks like around-the-clock bombing will resume early next week. Russia is apparently “concerned” that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham fighters in Aleppo are refusing to leave the city via the humanitarian escape corridors. There are reports, meanwhile, that rebels inside the city are preventing medical evacuations unless humanitarian aid is delivered to the city, and I’m starting to think that some of the rebels may not be the nicest people.

The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution calling for a complete end to the bombing of Aleppo, after hearing a speech in which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordanian Prince Zeid b. Raʿad al-Hussein, referred to the city as a “slaughterhouse” and called for a war crimes investigation.

In other Aleppo-related news, Turkey has been bombing Kurdish YPG forces in northern Aleppo province for a number of days now, killing hundreds of them. The US is apparently concerned enough about these attacks to “look into it,” but expect the administration to argue that the YPG Kurds Turkey is striking now aren’t the same YPG Kurds the US has been working with to the east. This is a purely semantic distinction that simply helps the US balance working with the YPG in Raqqa while maintaining some semblance of a relationship with Ankara. The site of most of the attacks, Maarat Umm Hawsh, is quite a ways west of the Euphrates River, and Turkey has been fairly clear that it will attack any YPG units it finds west of the Euphrates, so these clashes aren’t exactly unexpected.


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