The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, arrived in Mosul on Sunday, 9th July 2017, and declared the city liberated from the so-called Islamic state (IS).
The Prime Minister’s words come at the end of a long and arduous military operation, launched in October by the Iraqi coalition. The recapture of most neighborhoods of Mosul signals a significant military, and symbolic, victory for the US-backed Iraqi forces in their fight against the extremist group.
Mosul was the only remaining large Iraqi city controlled by the group. Its seizure, along with the Great Al-Nuri mosque of Mosul — where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared IS’ self-branded ‘Caliphate’ — is the latest in a series of defeats for IS. The organisation has seen their territory shrink dramatically in Iraq over the last months.
However, declaring the end of IS is somewhat premature and overshadows a number of critical challenges that remain.
Although IS has lost the majority of its Iraqi territory, the jihadist group remains present in a number of towns, including Tel Afar, Al-Qaim, Imam Gharbi and Hawija, where hundreds of thousands of people potentially still live under IS rule. Beyond Iraq, IS remains active in neighboring Syria where it still controls a sizeable territory, despite being on the retreat due to attack from international and local forces.
Even if the so-called Islamic State is on the decline territorially, it is unlikely that their operations will simply come to an end. Several recent attacks in Mosul, Baghdad and in southern Iraq suggest that the group may revert to more ‘traditional’ guerrilla and terrorist modus operandi, acting as a destabilizer in the post-IS moment.
Most importantly, while the major military threat posed by IS is fading, its long term legacy may be here to stay. Years of conflict and devastation have left millions of Iraqis, and Syrians, in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, deprived of livelihoods, and prospects for the future.
The situation is particularly dire for the millions of children left mentally and physically traumatized by the war. Many urgently need access to education and psychological support, as well as long term stability and security. Achieving these latter goals means addressing the deep divisions that have plagued Iraq’s stability and prosperity since the 2003 US-led invasion.
The decline of IS is the end of a nightmare for many Iraqi, and the numerous celebrations that have welcomed the fall of Mosul throughout the country illustrate this intense relief.
But it is by no means the end of the suffering for the Iraqi people. Humanitarian support and global awareness remains as crucial as ever.