A tale of two occupied cities.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran two stories in one day on the problems of “occupied territories” in two wars. The stories cast some light on possible future developments.

Since seizing Mosul in June 2014, ISIS has provided a sort of good government to the captured city of 1-1.5 million people.[1] Roads have been repaired and are well-maintained. The street lights are working far better than they did under the old regime. Theft of electricity through improvised wiring has ended. You can walk down the street without navigating around kiosks and barrows. Littering has come to a stop. All men wear beards and all women are fully covered. You don’t feel offended all the time by people scrolling through their Smart phones because the cell towers and Internet have been turned off.[2] ISIS drove out the Christian minority from the city. Now churches host garage sales. ISIS blew up the Shi’ite shrines that once dotted the city. One way to ensure compliance with government orders is to kill anyone who violates them.

The recapture of Mosul has been a loudly-proclaimed goal of the American—I mean Iraqi—strategy against ISIS. So far, most of the heavy lifting has been done by the Kurds, who have made advances around the western, northern, and eastern flanks of the city. However, the fall of Ramadi in Anbar province has put a spoke in the wheel of that strategy for the moment.

The Sunni majority in the city fears both the reconquest by the Shi’ite-dominated government and what might follow at the hands of the “liberators.”

It isn’t at all clear that Petro Poroshenko’s Ukraine government expects—or even wants—to recover the rebel territories in eastern Ukraine.[3] A cease-fire worked out in February 2015 has greatly reduced casualties among civilians. However, Poroshenko’s government has been tightening controls on movement between the two parts of Ukraine. One estimate is that trade across the cease-fire line has fallen by perhaps 70 percent since the cease-fire was implemented.[4] The Poroshenko government argues that the economic and political integration clauses of the cease-fire agreement have to wait on the military aspect of the cease-fire being “fully ensured.” The distinction seems intended to punish the residents of the eastern zone. Delays at the Kiev government’s check-points have extended a round-trip between Donetsk and neighboring towns in Ukraine proper from two hours to twelve hours. Furthermore, the Ukrainian border guards regularly demand hefty bribes—in effect a government tax on exports—from truckers. Food and medical supplies from Ukraine have begun to dwindle as the border guards refuse to allow their passage. The Kiev government has begun denying pension benefits to anyone living permanently in the rebel-held regions. The Russians have not taken up the slack. Yet. This policy runs the risk of driving many people in eastern Ukraine who do not support “independence” under the Russian thumb into the arms of the rebels. One frustrated traveler said “”Give me the opportunity to work and live peacefully and I don’t care who is in power.”

Clearly, conditions in Mosul are far worse than in eastern Ukraine. The occupation of Mosul by ISIS seems likely to end in a horrific fashion, while Ukraine will be partitioned.

[1] Nour Malas, “Year of Islamic State Rule Transforms Mosul,” WSJ, 10 June 2015.

[2] That doesn’t mean that no news reaches the city. Residents seem well aware of the reports of very destructive fighting, looting, and retribution killings by Shi’ite militias in the re-capture of Tikrit.

[3] Laura Mills, “In Ukraine, Anger Grows as Border Tightens,” WSJ, 10 June 2015.

[4] That is, much more trade took place while the fighting was still going on at a high pitch.

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