Mosul could be the beginning of something worse than ISIS
One cannot help but be pessimistic about the situation Iraq finds itself in, as well as the ability and will of its political leaders to resolve the sorry state of the country. As politicians lick their lips at the inevitable defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul, one must also survey the wasteland left behind in the name of fighting terrorism.
A little more than three years ago, ISIS militants took control of Mosul’s iconic Great Mosque of al-Nuri and told its imam that someone else would be ascending to the pulpit that day to address the faithful. That “someone else” was ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who, draped in black robes and a turban in the style of the Abbasid caliphs of centuries ago, declared the establishment of a caliphate only he and his followers recognised.
How things have changed. Rather than truly liberating Mosul, Iraqi security forces have reduced it to little more than rubble in many areas, particularly the western parts of the city. The monitoring organisation Airwars, which tracks US-led coalition operations in Iraq and Syria, said there were five times as many civilian deaths in west Mosul as there were on the eastern bank of the Tigris River that bisects the city.
Though a precise figure has yet to be tallied, given that the fighting is ongoing, the butcher’s bill on the ground looks staggering, activists and human rights workers said. Approximately 16,000 civilians are said to have been killed in the fight against ISIS since October 2016 and more than half of the population has been internally displaced and forced into unsanitary refugee camps.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s declaration of victory was premature. While Abadi is busy cheering for a victory, it is fair to wonder what he and the ever-disunited Iraqi parliament will do in the post-ISIS phase in Mosul. Unfortunately, signs are not promising.
Rather than focusing on reconstruction, redevelopment and economic revival to ensure that all Iraqi cities, towns and villages — irrespective of their ethno-sectarian make-up — integrate into the Iraqi state and enjoy opportunities, the Iraqi government has chosen the path of repression. Baghdad has begun to implement an ISIS families bill that prevents families of suspected ISIS members from returning home.
This social ostracisation is dangerous for a multitude of reasons. For example, everyone in Iraq knows how Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law was heavily abused by former prime minister and current Vice-President Nuri al- Maliki, a virulently sectarian Shia Islamist from the same Dawa Party as Abadi. Maliki used anti-terror laws primarily to persecute Sunni Arabs but also to punish political adversaries from other denominations, including the Shias.
With a defunct judiciary in Iraq, how can Iraqis be assured that those being branded and identified as ISIS are genuinely terrorists? After all, the record of the Iraqi government is one of misusing and abusing laws to extract politicised rulings, with justice stowed away due to its sheer inconvenience.
With cities remaining sites of devastation even after liberation — just look at Falluja and Ramadi for examples — and with Iraqi authorities using ISIS to execute a witch-hunt against undesirables, it seems that the root diseases that led to the rise of ISIS are not only still there but thriving and festering in Iraq.
Even once ISIS is defeated in Mosul and in its remaining holdouts across Iraq, the underlying ills of the country will eventually bubble to the surface, before exploding in an easily avoidable conflagration of violence and blood that will be worse than the ISIS scourge that came before it.