In Iraq, Richard Engel Sees a Country Mobilized for a Fight

By A.J. Katz 

NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is reporting from the field as the offensive to grab control of Mosul from ISIS hands is underway. This is a complex operation, one led by the Iraqi military with support from American troops. There are 1.5 million civilians trapped inside what is Iraq’s second-largest city, and ISIS, which has controlled Mosul for over two years, isn’t allowing them to leave. In fact, it’s being reported that ISIS prefers to hold them as “human shields.” The Mosul operation is the largest in Iraq since American troops left in 2011, and if successful, it could be the biggest blow yet to ISIS.

Engel has filed multiple reports for NBC News over the past 24 hours, including NBC Nightly News on Sunday, Today on Monday, and a Facebook Live Q&A on Monday afternoon. He will provide a live update for tonight’s Nightly News from the Qayyarah Air Base, which is where the Americans and Iraqis are running the offensive from.

We corresponded with the longtime NBC newser via email today to find out what he is seeing on the ground right now, how technology has impacted how he’s able to cover this engagement, and how those in the Middle East are reacting to this presidential election.


TVNewser: First off, how are you and your crew doing?

Engel: Thanks for asking. We’re doing great.  A little tired and dusty, but great.

TVNewser: What are you seeing today as the approach to Mosul continues?

Engel: We’re seeing a country mobilized for a fight.  It’s something like an armed cannonball run, with Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters, Shiite militias, police officers and others rushing into battle.

TVNewser: This is one of the first military engagements that’s being live-streamed on Facebook. How are you able take advantage of and react to this shift in how easy it is to get live compared to just a few years ago?

Engel: Facebook, Twitter and social media have now been part of reporting for years now.  Believe it or not, we actually don’t have very good communications where we are now. Internet and phone service are spotty at best, so we do the best we can, but I wouldn’t say this is a high-tech, media driven offensive. It’s an armed one.

TVNewser: What are your thoughts on how foreign news has been overshadowed by the election?

Engel: This election has become big news internationally too.  It’s leading newscasts around the world. It has hijacked the world’s attention, not just ours.  How many more days to go?

TVNewser: From what you have seen, what are people in the Middle East saying about what’s happening in the U.S. these days?

Engel: I’d say the people in the Middle East are not watching it as closely as those in Europe. The Middle East is so consumed with its own deep problems now: Syria, ISIS, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and the list goes on.  However, Europe sees parallels with the rise of populism and anti-refugee sentiment.

TVNewser: What might foreign policy look like under a President Clinton or a President Trump?

Engel: Under Clinton, the expectation is for a somewhat more interventionist foreign policy, but one based firmly on American traditions.  Under Trump, there is real concern among foreign policy experts that he will try to wipe the slate clean, tear up long-standing agreements, upset allies, and cozy up to our adversaries.