For the past few weeks, British newspapers have been informing their readers about two contrasting battles in the killing grounds of the Middle East. One is Mosul, in northern Iraq, where western reporters are accompanying an army of liberation as it frees a joyful population from terrorist control. The other concerns Aleppo, just a few hundred miles to the west. This, apparently, is the exact opposite. Here, a murderous dictator, hellbent on destruction, is waging war on his own people.
Both these narratives contain strong elements of truth. There is no question that President Assad and his Russian allies have committed war crimes, and we can all agree that Mosul will be far better off without Isis. Nevertheless, the situations in Mosul and Aleppo are fundamentally identical. In both cases, forces loyal to an internationally recognised government are attacking well-populated cities, with the aid of foreign air power. These cities are under the control of armed groups or terrorists, who are holding a proportion of their population hostage.
Peter Oborne discusses the situations in Mosul and Aleppo with Seth J Frantzman
In Mosul, fewer than 10,000 Isis fighters control about a million people. In eastern Aleppo, it is estimated that about 5,000 armed men, the majority linked to al–Qaeda, dominate a population of about 200,000. In each case the armed groups use the zones they occupy to attack government areas with rockets, mortars and other weapons.
So Prime Minister al-Abadi in Iraq and President Assad in Syria face the same dilemma. Should they do nothing for fear of killing civilians? Or do they take air action and eliminate the so-called rebels, but at terrible cost in innocent blood as they wage merciless war against ruthless insurgents?
In both cases, enormous bloodshed could be prevented if the terrorist groups let the civilian population leave.