liberated
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

News Analysis |

The fighting is all but over in Mosul. As Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Mosul to declare victory and call for unity, civilians on the longer-secured east side of the city danced and waved Iraqi flags. Some called for brotherhood between Sunnis and Shiites, or chanted, “By our souls and blood, we sacrifice for you, Iraq!”

Three years ago, a black-clad cleric named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ascended a mosque pulpit in Mosul and addressed the world as leader of a new terrorist state.

But despite the flaring of hope for a new national unity, the government’s costly victory in Mosul and the questions hanging over its aftermath feel more like the next chapter in the long story of Iraq’s unraveling.

The announcement of the so-called caliphate was a high point for the extremist fighters of the Islamic State. Their exhibitionist violence and apocalyptic ideology helped them seize vast stretches of territory in Syria and Iraq, attract legions of foreign fighters and create an administration with bureaucrats, courts and oil wells. Now, their state is crumbling.

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

It is a moment for Iraqis to celebrate after nearly nine months of bloody warfare against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But despite the flaring of hope for a new national unity, the government’s costly victory in Mosul and the questions hanging over its aftermath feel more like the next chapter in the long story of Iraq’s unraveling.

Reports of past abuses by the Shiite-controlled government and its security forces and militia allies against Sunni families have kept sectarian divisions fresh. And with no sectarian reconciliation process to speak of, any setback in the resettling of Mosul could dangerously add to the list of grievances.

Most pressing is the need to bring back hundreds of thousands of displaced Sunni civilians. But Iraq has failed to rebuild and resettle some other communities freed from the Islamic State as tensions between the Sunni minority and the majority Shiites still undermine efforts to reunite the country.

Reports of past abuses by the Shiite-controlled government and its security forces and militia allies against Sunni families have kept sectarian divisions fresh. And with no sectarian reconciliation process to speak of, any setback in the resettling of Mosul could dangerously add to the list of grievances.

Read more: Iraq: No end in sight

Is ISIS totally defeated?

Even though ISIS is dislodged from Mosul, the Islamic State is in no way homeless yet.

In Iraq, the group still controls Tal Afar, Hawija, other towns and much of Anbar Province. In Syria, most of its top operatives have fled Raqqa in the past six months for other towns still under ISIS control in the Euphrates River valley, according to American and Western military and counterterrorism officials who have received intelligence briefings.

American Special Operations forces have targeted this area heavily with armed Reaper drones and attack planes, disrupting and damaging the Islamic State’s leadership and ability to carry out plots.

Many have relocated to Mayadeen, a town 110 miles southeast of Raqqa near oil facilities and with supply lines through the surrounding desert. They have taken with them the group’s most important recruiting, financing, propaganda and external operations functions, American officials said. Other leaders have been spirited out of Raqqa by a trusted network of aides to a string of towns from Deir al-Zour to Abu Kamal.

Read more: All the UAE’s men: Gulf crisis opens door to power shift…

American Special Operations forces have targeted this area heavily with armed Reaper drones and attack planes, disrupting and damaging the Islamic State’s leadership and ability to carry out plots.

But those officials, including Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, one of the Army’s top Special Operations officers, also acknowledged that the Islamic State had retained much of its ability to inspire, enable and direct terrorist attacks.

Now, senior American intelligence and counterterrorism officials say that more than 60,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed since June 2014, including much of the group’s leadership, and that the group has lost about two-thirds of its peak territory.

But those officials, including Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, one of the Army’s top Special Operations officers, also acknowledged that the Islamic State had retained much of its ability to inspire, enable and direct terrorist attacks.

Read more: The Pakistan diaspora,economy and the Gulf crisis

The cost of victory

The retaking of the city, by all accounts, came at a great cost. Sensitive to the mounting casualties, the Iraqi government does not disclose how many of its troops have been killed. But deaths among Iraqi security forces in the Mosul battle had reached 774 by the end of March, according to American officers, which suggests the toll is more than a thousand now.

Even more civilians are estimated to have been killed, many at the hands of the Islamic State and some inadvertently by American airstrikes. At least seven journalists were killed, including two French correspondents and their fixer, an Iraqi Kurdish journalist, in a mine explosion in recent weeks.

Western Mosul, especially its old city, where the Islamic State made its last stand, was hit particularly hard, becoming a gray and decimated landscape. As the combat has drawn to a close, thousands of civilians have begun to return.

The Iraqis and their international partners will now be confronted by the immense challenge of restoring essential services like electricity and rebuilding destroyed hospitals, schools, homes and bridges, which were wrecked in the ground combat or by the airstrikes, artillery fire and Himars rocket attacks carried out by the American-led coalition to help Iraqi troops advance.

Western Mosul, especially its old city, where the Islamic State made its last stand, was hit particularly hard, becoming a gray and decimated landscape. As the combat has drawn to a close, thousands of civilians have begun to return. But 676,000 of those who left the western half of the city have yet to come back, according to United Nations data.

Read more: Escalation of Gulf crisis: were negotiated solutions an illusion?

It is not hard to see why. Of the 54 neighborhoods in western Mosul, 15 neighborhoods that include 32,000 houses were heavily damaged. An additional 23 neighborhoods are considered to be moderately damaged. The cost of the near-term repairs and the more substantial reconstruction that is needed in Mosul has been estimated by United Nations experts at more than $700 million.

Comments & Discussion