ISIS days over in Mosul but suffering of victims continues
London-The recapture of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS) has provided Iraq with new opportunities for national reconciliation but the country faces other serious challenges that could make matters worse.
The announcement of “total victory” in Mosul by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has restored some confidence in the state following the humiliation that plagued the government when ISIS captured the city in 2014 but the war against the militants is by no means over.
ISIS controls the towns of Tal Afar in Nineveh province; Hawijah in Kirkuk; as well as Rawa, Anah and al-Qaim in Anbar. ISIS continues to attack government-held areas, including in the Old City of Mosul. The reported death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is unlikely to affect the militants’ operations.
In addition to recapturing these areas, the Iraqi government needs to swiftly bring a sense of normalcy to the people who lived under ISIS control. This does not only mean providing urgent humanitarian attention but also ensuring the process of reconstruction and of securing a dignified means of living for them is a priority.
Victims of ISIS in those areas will undoubtedly feel relieved after being freed from the ordeal of living under the militants’ rule but, in order for them to trust the state, they are likely to want zero tolerance of human rights violations, including displacement, unlawful detention, torture, rape and summary executions carried out by Iraqi forces, predominately Shia militias or Kurdish peshmerga.
Although residents in the Kurdish-majority north and the Shia-majority south have faced human rights violations at the hands of security forces, they see the abuses as part of corruption of the authorities, as opposed to being driven by sectarianism, because such acts are carried out by members of their own faith or ethnicity. Residents of the Sunni-Arab community are more likely to view such abuses as sectarian.
The national focus on the military campaign to dislodge ISIS from Mosul has led the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil to set aside most of their differences, albeit momentarily. Relations peaked when Iraqi government forces were allowed to enter KRG territory for the first time since 1990.
The announcement by KRG President Masoud Barzani in April that he intends to call a referendum on the future of Kurdistan and other disputed areas drew condemnation from the Iraqi government but Baghdad did not escalate the row with Erbil. How the two sides decide to handle the dispute as they approach the September 25 vote could determine what Iraq’s next major crisis is going to be.