From Aleppo to Baghdad, war weary keep close eye on US presidential race

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Residents of Qayyarah, near Mosul, walk near burning oil wells, set alight by fleeing ISIL fighters. Despite the hardships facing the country, Iraqis have closely followed the US presidential election. Getty Images
Josh Wood and Anna Lekas Miller, Foreign Correspondents
BEIRUT // From Baghdad to Mosul, Aleppo to Raqqa, the people caught up in the region’s raging conflicts are likely to have more to worry about than who wins the US election. Yet whether it is Barack Obama’s inaction over Syria, or George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, recent history has shown that the foreign policy decisions taken in the White House are keenly felt in the Middle East.

The complex wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involve the United States. Regardless of who wins the election, the US will continue to have a role to play in these conflicts and an influence on their outcomes.

The National spoke with the people most affected by these conflicts about what they hope will come next.

SYRIA

“The US election has brought us hell here,” said Hamad Al Issa, a resident of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. “Obama does not want to proceed with any step so he can keep his presidential record clean of wars and intervention. He doesn’t care about human rights or rivers of blood here.”

Mr Al Issa is one of an estimated 275,000 civilians who have been under siege by Syrian regime forces since September. Food supplies are running low and recent Russian and government bombing has been some of the most intense of the war.

US diplomatic efforts to halt the war have failed. However, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton advocates no-fly zones and safe zones for civilians in Syria to pressure the Syrian government and Russia. Her opponent Donald Trump has said such a strategy would lead the US into “World War Three”.

So far, the US has limited its military involvement in Syria to air strikes against ISIL and other extremists, embedding US special forces with Kurdish troops fighting ISIL, and a fumbled programme to train and equip Arab rebels that agreed to fight ISIL. But a Clinton presidency could bring wider US action.

“I hope Hillary wins so that the situation doesn’t get worse; it is already catastrophic. She seems more aggressive about Assad and Putin and not happy with what they are doing in Syria, especially in Aleppo,” Mr Al Issa said.

Another resident of eastern Aleppo, Mohanad Al Qassim, was less optimistic. “I don’t see any hope in either candidate as Trump is planning to go and deal with Putin and Hillary is from the same party as Obama, who didn’t do anything during the last few years,” he said. “However, Hillary seems to have a better plan for Syria as she says she wants to do more effective action, especially in Aleppo, and to make a no-fly zone and force Assad and Putin to come to the negotiation table.”

Col Abdel Jabbar Akaidi, the former leader of the rebels’ Aleppo military revolutionary council, also expressed a preference for Mrs Clinton.

“It’s a frustrating thing that American people support Donald Trump although it’s so clear he is a racist man,” he said. “Hillary Clinton is a friend of the Syrians. Also [Arizona republican senator] John McCain. We have friends in the Republican party and we have friends in the Democratic party.”

IRAQ

Over the past year, Donald Trump has said he would “seize” Iraq’s oil to pay for the 2003 US invasion, and liquidate ISIL by any means possible – boots on the ground is assumed, and nuclear weapons are “not out of the question”.

But despite his extreme and at times Islamophobic rhetoric, he has some support in Iraq.

“In reality, in Iraq we don’t care if Hillary Clinton wins, or Donald Trump wins,” said Muhanned Saleh, 40, an engineer and dental technician living in Baghdad.

“But we do care about US politics after the elections. I think the situation in Iraq will be better if Trump wins.”

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