Update from the war (the real one)
With a population (in normal times) of almost two million, Mosul is the largest city ever held by Dâ'ish and the only significant one still in its hands other than its "capital" Raqqa in Syria. Mosul lies in an area rich in antiquities -- the ruins of Nineveh are just across the Tigris from it -- although of course much of that heritage has been destroyed by Dâ'ish during the occupation because of its pagan roots. The Mosul area produces oil and includes the Mosul dam, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the Middle East. President Obama himself recently emphasized the importance of the battle.
There is little doubt that the liberation effort will succeed. The attacking forces amount to over 100,000 soldiers, while the Dâ'ish fighters holding the city number only about 5,000 and are so demoralized that a week ago some of them tried to rebel against their own leaders. Indeed, the Iraqi government has already said that the operation is proceeding faster than expected.
But there are potential problems that go beyond simply winning. Will civilian suffering -- whether from the fighting or from Dâ'ish scorched-earth tactics -- be so great as to poison the well of future national reconciliation? Will the predominantly-Shiite Iraqi military commit atrocities against Sunni civilians (as happened in some earlier battles)? Even after the city is recaptured, will intergroup rivalries just lead to further conflict in the future? Mosul is close to the border between the Kurdish autonomous area and Iraq proper, and its population is a mix of several groups. Such problems are not limited to the Middle East. Recall how the end of World War II led to atrocities in eastern Europe almost as horrific as those of the war itself, as brutalized ethnic groups settled scores and the victorious USSR carried out some of the largest forced population transfers in history.
There's also the problem of Turkey, a major regional military power (and NATO member) whose increasingly authoritarian Islamist regime is aggressively hostile to our Kurdish allies.
In the unlikely event that Mosul falls before Nov. 8, the battle might have some impact on our election, in that a major victory against Dâ'ish would vindicate Obama's Middle East policy and thus help Hillary Clinton. But in any event the mess in Iraq and Syria will remain an ongoing problem for her Presidency, even after Dâ'ish is finally destroyed. The defeat of Nazi Germany was a great victory over evil, but it did not mean the end of difficult problems in Europe. The same will be true of the defeat of Dâ'ish.
[Image: Mosul in peacetime, showing the Tigris river in the foreground]