Aleppo and Mosul – A Tale of Two Cities
20 August 2016
By Eyad Abu Shakra
In 1859, the celebrated British author Charles Dickens wrote 'A Tale of Two
Cities', a famous novel whose events took place in Paris and London during and
in the aftermath of the French revolution, and dealt with the plight of the
French peasantry under the old nobility.
Before that date, however, two Middle Eastern cities with glorious history
were part of the realm of the Hamdanids (890 AD – 1004 AD). The Banu Hamdans
were descendants of the prominent tribe of Taghlib, who hail from the mother
tribe Rabi'a bin Nizar bin Adnan (Adnan being the progenitor of the 'Northern
Arabs'). Their achievements in defence of Arab lands especially those of Sayf
Al-Dawla, the governor of Aleppo, was glorified by the great Arab poet Al-Mutanabbi.
A contemporary of Sayf Al-Dawla was his cousin Nasser Al-Dawla, the governor
However, Aleppo and Mosul, the largest second metropolises of Syria and Iraq
respectively, the most beautiful, most culturally diverse, and socially
sophisticated, are now in deep trouble. Aleppo is suffering a war of
starvation and mass murder carried out by Bashar Al-Assad's regime, Russia's
air force and Iran's sectarian militias; and is threatened with one of the
worst forced population exchange in the modern history of the Middle East
since the Palestinian 'nakbah' in 1948. Mosul's fate does look less tragic if
'liberating' it of ISIS is left to the sectarian 'People's Mobilization'
militia whose true identity became apparent after the massacres it committed
in Al-Muqdadiyah and Al-Fallujah as well as other Sunni towns in Iraq.
It is not a coincidence that these two bastions of 'Arabism' are facing such a
peril; nor is it surprising that the devastating storm blowing in the Middle
East since 2003 is changing the demographic fabric of the region along with
redrawing its maps and reapportioning foreign influence there. The two
aforementioned cities share a demographic identity that best embody an
unwanted status quo. A status quo that must be replaced as part of the new
'plan' designed for the region by the rising international and regional
powers. Both Aleppo and Mosul have a Sunni Arab majority along with sizeable
Christian and non-Christian, Arab and non-Arab minorities, within the two
cities and in their surrounding areas, all living in peace and harmony for
What John Brennan, the Director of CIA, said the other day expressing his
pessimism about the future of Syria, and his interesting insinuation to the
possibility of partition is nothing but an admission of efforts being made by
more than one side toward partitioning Iraq, and possibly, Turkey too; as well
as preparing the ground for an independent Kurdish state that many within
Syria and Iraq think its declaration is merely a matter of time. Indeed, the
recent disturbances in Turkey, the repercussions of which may not end soon,
confirm the dynamics of instability and change; more so as the international
community stayed silent for too long as Syrian and Iraqi territories were
being transformed into a mega-camp that attracts, gathers and trains radical
Sunni groups as a prerequisite for the implementation and then justification
of the new 'plan'.
Today, Russia and the Al-Assad regime – which Russia insists it is not keen to
keep in power – are working in tandem, with Iran's military efforts, to create
a new and dangerous demographic status quo in Syria, the high cost of which
would be paid by the Sunni Arab majority. The first step on this route started
in the city of Homs and its environs with well prepared and executed
ethnic/sectarian cleansing aiming at strongly connecting the capital Damascus
with the Syrian coastal region (with an Alawite majority) and Shi'ite-dominated
Lebanon through Hezbollah, and then was completed by bolstering the defences
in greater Damascus and its countryside.
Now, after uprooting and evicting around 13 million Syrians most of whom are
Sunni Arabs, Al-Assad is cooperating with Moscow and Tehran, against a
background of total international silence, in securing the expulsion of around
300 to 400 thousands from the besieged Opposition-controlled neighbourhoods of
Aleppo, as they did to populations of the Aleppo countryside.
In Iraq too, following the 'liberation' of Al-Fallujah from ISIS, efforts are
now gathering pace to liberate Mosul, which the extremist terrorist
organization has turned into a major stronghold, rivalling its 'capital' the
city of Al-Raqqah in Syria. Also in Mosul the international community does not
seem to discount the possibility of a disastrous exodus from a city inhabited
by around 1.5 million inhabitants. And as is the case with Al-Assad who would
not have been able to achieve anything in Aleppo without strategic Russia air
and Iranian land support, the Iraqi premier Dr Haider Abadi is so politically
weak that on his own he can do nothing.
Thus, neither Abadi nor his senior cabinet members can decide anything in Iraq
where Iran enjoys both immense military strength and a virtual American 'carte
blanche' after the JCPOA, not forgetting the Kurdish Peshmerga militia which
is now a fully-fledged army in a de facto independent 'Iraqi Kurdistan'. Dr
Abadi is too week to prevent the 'People's Mobilization' militia from fighting
in Mosul, and to decide the future of Mosul after ridding it of ISIS as well
as a high percentage of its own people, when the time comes to draw the map of
northern Iraq and define the relationship of the Kurds of Iraq with their
brethren in northern Syria.
Given this worrying picture, one cannot but point out to a very important and
negative factor, without which the conspiracy of uprooting and displacement
would have been difficult to carry out. This factor is the presence of
extremist foreign fighting groups that are alien to the fabric of the Arab
east, but have come from all over the world declaring ''support'' (i.e. Nusra)
of the people of Syria, or ''fighting the infidels'', and claiming the
founding of ''The Islamic State'' in Iraq. Incidentally, the main loser from
what these groups have thus caused or achieved are the Arab Sunni Muslims of
The announcement made by 'Abu Mohammad Al-Jawlani', a senior figure in Al-Nusra
Front that his group has severed its links with Al-Qaeda and formed an
unattached new organization called ''Fateh Ash-Sham'' only confirmed what it
sought to dispel. 'Al-Jawlani' confirmed in his announcement all that was
being said about Al-Qaeda being there in Syria, with all its discourse,
slogans, objectives and infringements which do not conform with an
all-encompassing, pluralistic, national Syrian state.
This meant he unwittingly was giving credence to claims long made by Moscow
and others in western capitals that defeating the Syrian revolt was not only
justified but also necessary, more so, after recent terrorist attacks in
Europe and America in the age of 'Islamophobia'!
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with
the newspaper since 1978.