What’s in store for Iraq after Mosul?
Following the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) — the eponym of extremism, death and savagery — the return of Mosul to its inhabitants and to its country deserves official recognition.
It was expected that the people of Mosul and their Iraqi brethren would eventually kick out the invaders; they’ve done it all throughout their long history. Kicking out a bunch of passing thugs wouldn’t have been a problem were it not for the initial betrayal of the security forces and corrupt politicians.
Iraqis were puzzled by the quick fall of Mosul and other cities to the hands of ISIS in 2014 and they continue to be puzzled by the military effort it took to liberate it. Was this band of thugs mighty enough to defeat three trained army divisions in 2014? Was it strong enough to require the combined efforts of American, Iranian and Iraqi troops and all kinds of modern weaponry to dislodge it in 2017?
For Iraqis, the victory over ISIS must be a sign of renewed capacities but are Mosul’s problems over with the removal of extremism? What about the trauma of horror that children have been subjected to? Will Mosul’s inhabitants be subjected to another wave of humiliation? Will Mosul witness the birth of political forces bent on drowning the city with new political complications?
Mosul needs a fair governing body with no connections to the governorate’s council. I’m in favour of appointing a military governor to head an independent people’s committee with no connections to political parties or militias.
The first lesson from Mosul’s experience is the importance of a strong central authority. Because there was no strong central government in 2014, a few scores of terrorists could seize a major city the size of Mosul, which was supposedly under the protection of three heavily armed divisions.
Some analysts did not waste any time putting the blame on Mosul’s inhabitants themselves. They relied on the fact that Mosul was home to former officers and soldiers from the previous regime’s army, which had been disbanded disgracefully. At the beginning, these military men did not stop ISIS invaders and even aided them during the initial days of the invasion. Later, however, they turned against ISIS.
The elation over Mosul’s victory over ISIS should not eclipse the city’s post-ISIS concerns. On a political level, the Iraqi government and its governing parties should consider the political reasons, before the military ones, that facilitated ISIS’s invasion of Iraq. This means reviewing and correcting the humiliating and anti-democratic political measures implemented against Mosul’s inhabitants and the rest of Iraq’s Sunni Arab governorates.
On a strategic level, everybody is wondering who will win the trust of Mosul’s inhabitants. Will it be Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government or the traditional Sunni forces? Could it be the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) or will we witness the rise of new liberal forces heralding the birth of a new Iraq?
Logically, Abadi has a better chance in Mosul, given that he is the prime minister and commander of the armed forces, but it depends on whether he works towards a genuine project of national unity or the interests of one party or the other.
Security concerns have dominated Iraq’s political realm since 2003 when terrorist organisations made their appearance. However, the security problem in Iraq is part of the political problem. If political issues continue to poison Iraq, Iraqis risk seeing the birth of new extremist organisations and the return of the cycle of violence and death.
We have yet to see positive signs of unified positions among the governing parties. The parties of the Shia bloc, just like their counterparts in the Sunni bloc, continue to fight each other and Kurdish political forces are not concerned with a unified Iraq.
With the Mosul phase over, international forces in Syria have returned to jockeying for influence along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Daraa, Latakia and Raqqa are at the centre of an intense struggle between Kurdish and Shia militias. In the so-called secure zones along Syria’s borders with Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, units belonging to the PMF with Russia behind them are trying to link up with forces from the Syrian Army. They’re playing a chess game with forces belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the Americans. A tussle is going on between Russia and the United States and between Iran and Turkey.
There might not be a clear winner in the Syrian contest and no parties have an interest to be gleaned from partitioning Syria. Russia wants permanent bases in Syria and the United States wants to contain Iran in the region. Iran has its strategic goals and Turkey is more concerned with its internal security, especially with Kurdish mobilisation in Iraq.
In light of this fuzzy situation in a highly volatile area on the brink of tremendous transformation, politicians in Iraq should take a second look at their goals. They must start planning, prioritising the interests of common Iraqi citizens before any partisan or sectarian loyalty. They also need to wean themselves from foreign influence, for nobody serves Iraq better that its own children.