Iraq
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Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Mosul to congratulate the army for driving the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group out of most of the city.

”I’ve come to Mosul today to follow up on our victories and on the eradication of ISIL, which we are close to achieving,” Abadi said on Sunday.

Despite the celebrations, heavy fighting by holdouts continued in parts of the Old City neighborhood near the Tigris River. With air support from the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched the battle for Mosul in October, retaking the eastern part of the city in January and starting the operation for its western part the next month.

Abadi’s office had said he was visiting “liberated” Mosul to congratulate his “heroic fighters”, but the prime minister later indicated he would only declare victory once final pockets of resistance were cleared.

“Most ISIL fighters in Mosul have been killed and just a few are left now, he said. “I will leave some room for the heroic armed forces to complete this action so we can announce victory soon, God willing.”

Read more: Will the fall of Mosul make Iraq safer?

Despite the celebrations, heavy fighting by holdouts continued in parts of the Old City neighborhood near the Tigris River. With air support from the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched the battle for Mosul in October, retaking the eastern part of the city in January and starting the operation for its western part the next month.The nearly nine-month battle for Mosul has ruined parts of the city, killed thousands of civilians and displaced nearly one million people.

After Mosul, what’s next

When ISIS conquered Iraq’s predominantly Sunni Arab areas three years ago, it faced off with Kurdish forces along a front line that ran through the middle of what one might call the borderlands between Arab Iraq, with Baghdad as its capital, and Kurdish Iraq, which is governed from Erbil in the north.

The problem of the disputed territories was recognized in the post-2003 Iraqi constitution, which laid out a plan for resolving their status. That never came to pass. Then, ISIS’s arrival provided Kurdish leaders with what they thought was an opportunity to settle the matter in their favor, having gained considerable territory in the fight against the jihadist group. But this has only inflamed tensions further.

Kurdish leaders claim that significant parts of these so-called disputed territories are “Kurdistani,” by which they mean that even if the local population is not majority-Kurdish, it nevertheless should be incorporated into the Kurdish region—and thus into a desired future Kurdish state. Many local Arabs, on the other hand, insist that these areas are inalienable Iraqi and must remain under Baghdad’s authority.

The problem of the disputed territories was recognized in the post-2003 Iraqi constitution, which laid out a plan for resolving their status. That never came to pass. Then, ISIS’s arrival provided Kurdish leaders with what they thought was an opportunity to settle the matter in their favor, having gained considerable territory in the fight against the jihadist group. But this has only inflamed tensions further.

Read more: The ‘Sniper of Mosul’ is picking off jihadis one-by-one

Kurdish leaders rightly see ISIS as the result of an ideological marriage between Arab chauvinists and Islamist radicals, both equally intolerant of the ethnic and religious “other,” with the religious strand currently dominant. But many Kurds fail to appreciate that among Sunni Arabs in northern Iraq, ISIS also draws on anger over Kurdish actions in the disputed territories, especially around Mosul and in Kirkuk. With the central government weak, many of these local Arabs appear to accept the protection of just about any political group that will keep the Kurds away, even if that group is ISIS.

Fall of Mosul and the final defeat of ISIS does not mean that Iraq would be free from conflicts. Tensions are already rising between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds and can escalate into full-fledged civil war if the concerns of the oppressed sections of Iraqi society are not addressed.

It is important to remember that ISIS began in Iraq and that the majority of its leadership and followers are Iraqi (even if it was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian); it has been able to attract foreign elements mainly because of its willingness to fight the Syrian regime and its pledge to establish a caliphate. ISIS’s military defeat may take care of the foreign component, but surviving Iraqi followers, deeply enmeshed in the local population through family and tribal ties, will pose a long-term challenge, including in the disputed territories.

Read more: Iraq-Turkey Tension Rises Amid Battle For Mosul

Fall of Mosul and the final defeat of ISIS does not mean that Iraq would be free from conflicts. Tensions are already rising between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds and can escalate into full-fledged civil war if the concerns of the oppressed sections of Iraqi society are not addressed.

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