ISIS in Iraq and Syria: Good Riddance

The recent news announced by Iraqi Prime Minister that ISIS has been effectively rooted out of Iraqi city Mosul after a grueling battle between Iraqi forces and Is militants. The ‘liberation’ of Mosul was complete — three years after this historic city had been overrun by the hordes of the militant Islamic State group. However, the pictures emerging from Mosul are ones of devastation, showing a grey landscape filled with rubble and debris. The human toll has been even greater, with hundreds of thousands of Mosul’s people displaced, while hundreds have been killed either by ISIS militants or in the crossfire. Of course, Mosul’s recapture is highly symbolic as it is a major urban center, while it was in the city’s Nuri mosque — now reduced to rubble — that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his ‘caliphate’. However, while the ‘caliphate’ may be falling apart, IS’s ability to cause havoc remains considerable. Observers are of the view that the terrorist outfit may increase its guerrilla tactics after losing Mosul, while it also retains territory elsewhere in Iraq.

Latest news from Iraq’s neighbor Syria is that the self-proclaimed ‘Caliph’ of Islamic State has been confirmed dead in air strikes as verified by Russian military and ISIS insider sources. The announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death coming so soon after the fall of Mosul and the conquest of the al-Nuri mosque – where he proclaimed his caliphate in 2014 – would be a massive blow to morale of the remaining ISIS fighters. In a sprawling conflict with ill-defined lines and shifting allegiances these few facts may be the only two solid indications that the war against ISIS is being won. It matters little – to the Iraqi government at least – if al-Baghdadi is really dead or not; the declaration of victory and bolstered morale is much more important. This report is more substantive than the previous ones and the Syrian Observatory is generally reliable, but unless it is officially confirmed by ISIS itself, it must be treated as rumors.

Apart from consolidating its gains against IS, the government in Baghdad should work towards ensuring that Mosul is rehabilitated at the earliest. Part of this rehabilitation must, of course, encompass the rebuilding of infrastructure and institutions. However, the Iraqi state must also ensure that communal relations are handled carefully. Mosul is a Sunni-majority city, while much of the Iraqi army consists of Shia troops. The militias that supported the army in recapturing Mosul are also almost entirely Shia. The government must ensure that there are no ‘revenge’ attacks and that steps are taken to promote harmony among Mosul’s different communities. The militants of IS had in the past exploited communal differences to pit various groups against each other. They must not be given this chance again, which is why the state must work to build bridges between communities as part of the rehabilitation of Mosul. Even then, it should always be kept in mind that battle is not over. These terrorist organizations have the ability to survive long after their power bases has been taken away. Whole of the Middle East will have to come together if the evil of militancy is to be rooted out of the region for good.

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Mian Bilal

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