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Syria Update: Aleppo, Raqqa, and Mosul

SYRIA UPDATE: Another week, another massive offensive being launched to retake a major city. Last week the rebels began a major offensive against Aleppo, and today the Kurds began an offensive to capture the area around Raqqa, the capital city of ISIS. There's also the ongoing offensive against Mosul, and we may see offensives against al-Bab and Douma before the year is out.

I usually talk about "the Kurds", but this is an enormous oversimplification. That side of the war is properly called the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), and includes Kurds, Arabs, Christians, etc. The main fighting force is the Kurds, but the ones who will be occupying and administering Raqqa after it's been captured are local Arabs. The ultimate goal is to set up a federal region or regions in the north. US special forces are currently training the Arabs in urban combat in preparation for the eventual assault on Raqqa itself.

If we assume that the SDF ends up taking Raqqa, and that Iraq retakes Mosul, the only major city ISIS will have left is Deir az-Zor. The battle for Deir az-Zor will be politically complicated, just like everything else in Syria.

The Aleppo offensive is continuing, but neither side has made any progress. The rebels initial plan was to break the regime's siege of east Aleppo by punching through the populated parts of regime-held west Aleppo, but this has proven to be much more difficult that expected. Since the initial assault, the regime has launched a counter attack and the rebels have launched a counter counter attack. Both of them have failed.

The rebels' failure in this operation likely means that they will lose the war. The two rebel coalitions involved, Jaysh al-Fatah ("Army of Conquest") and Fatah Halab ("Conquest of Aleppo") were both unable to avoid domination by Islamists, which made it politically impossible for the West to support them. It's increasingly looking like the end game is for ISIS and the rebels to both be defeated, and for a diplomatic settlement to be reached between the regime and the Kurdish-dominated SDF.

In Mosul, coalition forces continue to make progress. They've mostly been clearing the outskirts of the eastern and northeastern parts of the city. These areas are predominantly Kurdish, but the main Iraqi army has been doing most of the fighting. If I recall correctly, the final agreement limited the Kurds to only taking part of the countryside, and prevented them from entering the city itself.

The Shiite militias have also been kept out of Mosul city, mostly by sending them on a pointless assault toward Tel Afar. This has given them plenty to do while keeping them far from the city itself, but has caused political issues because Tel Afar is mostly Turkish, and Turkey doesn't take kindly to non-Turks killing Turks. There are reports that Turkish tanks have been massing on the border for a possible intervention. I'm sure the Iraqi central government would squawk if that happened, but there would be very little they could do about it.

Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who is basically the Iranian equivalent to Batman, has been spotted south of Tel Afar. I assume he's going to lay waste to the oncoming Turkish tanks using nothing but the power of his smoldering gaze and grizzled beard. If that fails, he could always get bonked on the head again. It worked pretty well before.

Key for the map:
Green = Rebels
Black = ISIS
Red (in Syria) = the Assad regime
Red (in Iraq) = the Iraqi government
Yellow (in Syria) = Syrian Kurds/SDF
Yellow (in Iraq) = Iraqi Kurds/Kurdish Regional Government

Handy ethnographic map of Mosul:
http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/mosul_103743#12/36.3755/43.1842

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