Can a Mosul victory in October help Clinton?

The Obama administration took too long to grasp the real danger of ISIS.

Iraqi policemen in central Ramadi, Iraq, last March.

2016/08/14 Issue: 68 Page: 8

The Arab Weekly
Tom Regan

A s Iraqi security forces units, Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters, aided by US advisers and aircraft, get closer to beginning an assault to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State, there are two parties who could be the most affected by the coming battle: the more than 1.5 million Iraqis in the Mosul area and US Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The number of displaced Iraqis created by the struggle to win back territory from the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq is one of its most tragic side effects of the war. On August 2nd, the United Nations issued a statement saying that refugee camps were filled to capacity and, unless more aid is available, aid agencies would not be able to deal with the rush of newly displaced Iraqis resulting from the push to retake Mosul. According to the World Food Programme, there are 3.2 million displaced Iraqis and an additional 10 million who need humanitarian assistance.

In June, the United Nations said that as many as 2.2 million more Iraqis would be displaced in the coming battle against ISIS. So far, the United Nations has received only 40% of the $548 million it asked for to deal with the crisis.

Many displaced Iraqis fear possible violence at the hands of militias who are battling ISIS, militias who, rightly or wrongly, say many of those fleeing the conflict supported the ISIS takeover of large areas of Iraq. It is a lose-lose scenario for many of those Iraqis and their problems will only get worse the more intense the struggle to defeat ISIS becomes.

Clinton, however, stands to benefit from the surge to recapture Mosul, particularly if it happens in October.

The number of critics who have attacked US President Barack Obama’s actions in Iraq are numerous. Obama’s failure to “take off the gloves” against ISIS is one of the main lines of Republican Party attacks against his administration and has become one of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s main arguments against Clinton.

It is to some degree mistaken. Yes, the Obama administration probably took too long to grasp the real danger of ISIS and then backed the wrong horses in Iraqi political circles, which only made the delay in taking up the cudgel against ISIS worse.

But in recent months the Obama administration has taken steps to correct that late start and Pentagon officials said that, while ISIS lone-wolf attacks may be increasing in other parts of the world, the reality is that ISIS is on the run in Iraq and Syria.

And so an October battle and potential victory over ISIS in Mosul would silence many of Obama’s critics and give Clinton an important boost just before the November US presidential election.

US military officials said there is no deliberate timing taking place. They have told various media outlets that there is no way to make all the various parties taking part in the assault operate on a specific timeline. In reality, the only thing that is greater than their hatred for each other is their hatred of ISIS but that does not mean that they will fight before they are totally prepared to do so.

Regardless, an October victory in Mosul will be much welcomed by the Clinton campaign. Yet, as usual, the people of Iraq will pay a heavy price for any victory whenever it comes.

Tom Regan, a columnist at, previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, the Boston Globe and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the former executive director of the Online News Association and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1992.

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