The coalition’s defeat of the so-called Islamic State in Mosul has shown it can wage war. Can it now wage peace? It won’t be easy, writes Matthias von Hein.
The brutal battle in Mosul lasted nine bloody months. The so-called “Islamic State” (IS) has at last lost its hold on Iraq’s second-largest city, a symbol of power for the jihadis. It was here nearly three years ago that the terror group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called for a caliphate – from the al-Nuri mosque that IS bombed during the final days of battle. It was in Mosul that IS began to manifest its vital aura of invincibility; just a few hundred fighters were able to drive out the Iraqi army in 2014.
Defeating IS could be cause for celebration, if it means improved living conditions for the people of Mosul, a reconstruction program for the heavily damaged city and a secure future. Accomplishing that requires much more than victory over IS. The terror organization will continue to launch suicide attacks against city markets in the wake of its defeat. Andit remains to be seen what will fill the post-IS power vacuum.
Old habits for the freed city?
The only thing that united the various factions of the anti-IS coalition was their shared opposition to IS. With the militants now driven from the city, old rivalries can rush back to the political forefront. Disparate armed groups have collected in and around Mosul: the Iraqi army; police and anti-terror units, which are largely Shiite (as is the central government in Baghdad); the co-called “People’s Mobilization Forces (also dominated by Shiites, some of whom have ties to Iran); Sunni militias; and Peshmerga fighters from rival Kurdish groups.
Each group has its own agenda. For instance, the Kurds will hold an independence referendum on September 25. And some Shiite-dominated militias may resist disarming.
Further bloodshed between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers will be fueled by the unresolved conflict among these groups, made all the more tense given sectarian strife between Shiites and Sunnis. It all takes place within a larger regional framework where Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran hold sway on one side or the other, and the United States and Russia meddle as background superpowers. It is important to keep in mind that IS itself is a long-term consequence of America’s 2003 preemptive invasion of Iraq, a war in violation of international law.
The Iraqi military and militias paid a heavy price for retaking Mosul, and they will want to be compensated in the form of political influence or, at a minimum, in profiting from the city’s reconstruction. But city residents were the worst affected: Thousands were killed and nearly 900,000 fled, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency has estimated. Mosul’s Sunni population lives in fear of both IS and coalition troops, which human rights groups have accused of war crimes.
Financial aid needed
Mosul’s eastern section has been free of IS for six months, and there is already widespread anger and dissatisfaction. There is still no power. Drinking water needs to be shipped in by the UN. Schools have reopened to great fanfare, but teachers have gone without pay. Other liberated cities such as Ramadi, Fallujah and Tikrit find themselves in similarly precarious situations.
The world cannot afford once again to organize war without arranging for peace. A large amount of money from international donors is needed to rebuild Mosul. Such funds would be put to good use and could go a long way in counteracting a feeling among Iraq’s Sunnis that they have been discriminated against. That is what enabled the so-called “Islamic State’s” rise to power in the first place. Let’s not see yet another power struggle for Mosul spiral out of control.