AFTER a gruelling military campaign, Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul has been retaken by the government. On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that the ‘liberation’ of Mosul was complete — three years after this historic city had been overrun by the hordes of the militant Islamic State group. However, the pictures emerging from Mosul are ones of devastation, showing a grey landscape filled with rubble and debris. The human toll has been even greater, with hundreds of thousands of Mosul’s people displaced, while hundreds have been killed either by IS militants or in the crossfire. Of course, Mosul’s recapture is highly symbolic as it is a major urban centre, while it was in the city’s Nuri mosque — now reduced to rubble — that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his ‘caliphate’. However, while the ‘caliphate’ may be falling apart, IS’s ability to cause havoc remains considerable. Observers are of the view that the terrorist outfit may increase its guerrilla tactics after losing Mosul, while it also retains territory elsewhere in Iraq.
Apart from consolidating its gains against IS, the government in Baghdad should work towards ensuring that Mosul is rehabilitated at the earliest. Part of this rehabilitation must, of course, encompass the rebuilding of infrastructure and institutions. However, the Iraqi state must also ensure that communal relations are handled carefully. Mosul is a Sunni-majority city, while much of the Iraqi army consists of Shia troops. The militias that supported the army in recapturing Mosul are also almost entirely Shia. The government must ensure that there are no ‘revenge’ attacks and that steps are taken to promote harmony among Mosul’s different communities. The militants of IS had in the past exploited communal differences to pit various groups against each other. They must not be given this chance again, which is why the state must work to build bridges between communities as part of the rehabilitation of Mosul.
Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2017