The winners and losers in Mosul

Sunday 30/10/2016
Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani (R) and Shia Muslim leader Ammar al-Hakim

There can be no doubt that the Mosul offensive will end with the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the liberation of Iraq’s second city. This is thanks to the efforts of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian military coalition made up of 60 countries, led by the United States. In fact, there can be no way this does not end with the defeat, death or flight of the estimated 5,000 ISIS fighters who control the city.

But questions remain: Whose victory is this? And will a military victory equate to a wider political victory? Could Mosul’s liberation from ISIS result in regional and international powers competing for influence and interests in the Middle East in a manner that will only result in greater chaos and instability?

It is not surprising that Mosul was a subject of debate between rival US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and that it was a major topic of discussion among EU leaders at a recent Paris conference. Everybody knows that ISIS will not meet its ultimate end in Iraq, even if it does suffer a major defeat at the hands of the Iraqis and the international forces.

There are many who will try to use military victory over ISIS in Mosul to make new gains and increase their own influence, whether in their own countries or in the region. There are also those who will seek to make political gains at home in Iraq.

The fight against ISIS in Iraq must be viewed as part of the wider fight against the group in neighbouring Syria but Washington believes that a victory over ISIS in Mosul could reap major domestic dividends, particularly in relation to the fast-approaching US elections. In terms of strategic gains, victory demonstrates the US commitment to combating terrorism, something that will become increasingly important for the next US president and relations with Russia.

As for the Iraqi people, they are not paying much attention to the wider regional situation and how the battle for Mosul will affect the relationship between the United States, Russia and others. Instead, the Iraqis are worrying how ISIS’s defeat will affect them. Will this serve as the start of greater political and social fragmentation and increased sectarianism?

The most dangerous thing that could happen following the liberation of Mosul would be malicious acts of retaliation against those who refused to flee Mosul when ISIS arrived but sought to continue to live as normally as possible.

This would be nothing more than an excuse to purge many local military, political and intellectual figures who would most likely be killed en masse. The imposition of heavy-handed “security” would also be a mistake.

The politicians in Baghdad must not pursue new acts of sabotage against this city that has suffered so much, ripping away its history of national cohesion to replace it with sectarian fragmentation.

Some Sunni Arab parliamentarians appear falsely optimistic. They are attempting to renew their political roles and putting forward the view that a military victory in Mosul will lead to greater national unity. As to that, only time will tell.

Those who will be defeated after the battle of Mosul are the advocates of sectarian extremism, something that exists on both sides. It will be the people of Mosul — who rise from the ashes of war into a new dawn — who will be the biggest victors. As for the people of Iraq, they must do everything in their power to ensure that the liberation of Mosul is the start of a new renaissance.