What ISIL really wants from the battle for Mosul

When Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, ISIL’s leader, ascended the pulpit of the Great Mosque in Mosul two years ago, his choice of venue was not arbitrary. The Great Mosque was built by the Zangi dynasty that ruled Aleppo and Mosul in the 12th century. Today, even though the two cities face different conflicts, many in the region see them as twin cities going through the same plight.

On the surface, the experiences of the two cities are incomparable. In Mosul, the United States leads a campaign to end ISIL’s medieval rule that has the safety of its civilians as a stated priority. The campaign also takes into consideration locals’ concerns about the role of militias operating under the banner of the Hashd Al Shaabi. Aleppo faces a different fate: the regime and its allies are bent on obliterating the rebel-held parts of the city to surrender with no regard to civilian casualties.

But there is too much shared history between them for people in the region not to connect them, especially as the two cities dominate news headlines. Fairly or not, too many people are drawing connections. Statements last week by Iraqi officials and militias directly involved in the battle to retake Mosul are adding fuel to the fire.

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