Mosul on path to regain its glory but challenges galore
The Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) troops of Iraq are on the road to reclaim the remaining parts of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, from the clutches of the monstrous ISIS after three years, since June 2014 when the Islamists captured it. The historic city on the banks of the Tigris River had virtually turned into the laboratory for the ISIS to ensure that its caliphate expands across the globe. Indeed, the group has so far been extremely successful in spreading its deadly network to remotest corners of the world. Truly, the acronym ISIS or IS (Islamic State) has fast made its forays into the lexicon of the global think tanks, newspapers, magazines, government reports, social media pages and of course to the think pads of intellectuals around the world. The ISIS registered its global presence, either by its new age inhuman jehad or by establishing the 21st century caliphate in the city of Mosul in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Government of Iraq has made massive plans to celebrate the fall of the self-proclaimed caliphate of the ISIS. Around the same time, the American commander incharge of leading the battle against the ISIS says that there is no evidence that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph, is no more alive. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights informed the Reuters that Baghdadi has been killed. He went into hiding last month only when the US Government offered a $25 million reward to any person able to bring him to justice. Apart from this, the ISIS cadre have lost their fighting zeal as they have realised very well that their days are numbered. But experts say that jehadists would not go anywhere. Rather they will fast assimilate themselves into the mainstream or the hardcore cadre may try to form separate alliances with other like-minded Islamists across the region or beyond to carry forward their heinous agenda.
The sad news for the ISIS is that by the end of the first week of this month, the US-led forces in Syria entered Raqqa, the capital city of the group. With Mosul falling and Raqqa on the same line, the surviving members of the group would find it too difficult to reorganise and to recruit new ones to its fold. Earlier, followers of Baghdadi even destroyed the very ‘al-Nuri’ mosque dating back to Crusader times from where he had once declared the so-called caliphate.
Undoubtedly, the huge alluvial plains of the Tigris and the Euphrates belonging to the city of Mosul have witnessed only streams of blood in the last three years of ISIS’ occupation. The locals were wary of the cruel terrorists. When it comes to damages, the observers say that the much of the Old City of Mosul is left in ruins by the Islamists. Around 20,000 houses were destroyed. The footages of bodies of children, young and the old are lying all around the city. The saddest part of the whole tragedy is that hundreds are simply buried under the rubble. Many of the civilians who were used as human shields by the ISIS are living without basic amenities like food, water, medicines, etc. At the same time, the Iraqi soldiers are not allowing any kind of relief items to be sent to those who are trapped.
Indeed, the battle for Mosul was one of the most complicated ones ever fought by the Iraqi forces. The reason is that the geographic nature of region, particularly the Old Mosul city, is very unique. Its narrow roads and alleyways make the rebels hide for longer periods and they are able to engage the Government-backed forces in single spot so that they could carry their activities somewhere else. This helped the ISIS in stretching the conflict for nearly nine months. Earlier in 1918 and in 2003, though the city had witnessed battles, it did not last longer. The British and the American forces easily drove away the enemy in both the cases respectively. In comparison to the fights in the Old City, the East Mosul, the coalition forces took little time to reclaim the territories. In the East, the ISIS rebels surrendered one town after another to the Iraqi forces and finally retreated over to Syria. Again, when the Aleppo in Syria fell to the forces of President Assad, there was uproar around for offering safe passage to the civilians, but no one came up for negotiation. It seems both the ISIS and the coalition forces were readily accepting a bloody showdown, wherein the very talk of a safe passage hardly makes any sense. Even, those who have been taken hostages by the jehadists were forced to either act as their soldiers or informants. Therefore, most of the besieged people had to encounter the worst of the ground realities starting from food shortage to slavery under the whims and caprices of the Islamists.
As per the estimates given by the UN and other international agencies, nearly 900,000 of Mosul’s two million people have been displaced. Apart from this, about 700,000 are rendered homeless and living in pathetic conditions. The UN reports that nearly 200,000 people in Mosul are not going to return to their original home. As many of them come from poor families, they have already moved to either better areas or may have joined the jehadi groups. So there is all likelihood that these people may not come back again. But Haider al-Abadi, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has entirely a different perspective about the current situation in Mosul. He wants the residents of the city to return home at the earliest.
The Government of Iraq has estimated that the entire process of rehabilitation will cost about $100 billion. Ironically, around the same amount of money was spent by both Iraq and the US to fight the war against the ISIS. Since 2003, Iraq has been witnessing war, displacements and loss of lives and the Government is really broke by now. Initially the Sunni Gulf countries promised huge sums for bailing out war-ravaged Iraq, but in reality hardly anyone has come out. The World Bank has reportedly committed $300 million and the Government of Angela Merkel in Germany would be probably offering $570 million. This would substantially help in rebuilding the devastated nation to a considerable extent. In the meantime, the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA) has confirmed that there will be a talk in Washington among the Government representatives of Iraq, the international donor agencies and an international coalition of countries to chalk out a concrete agenda for the reconstruction of liberated zones and the other parts of the country. The NINA reports that the Iraqi delegation will meet the officials of the IMF and the World Bank on the issues of reconstruction.
Precisely, the rehabilitation efforts so far undertaken by the Abadi Government in the eastern part of Mosul seem not satisfactory. Most areas are facing acute shortage of water and electricity. Therefore, the UN is supplying almost 6 million litres a day to these regions. Though schools have reopened, the teachers are not paid regularly. Most importantly, the historic Mosul University still lies in ruins and its reconstruction might take years.
The coalition forces should be cautious. While the global war against terrorism is on, mainly in the West Asian region, the deep schism between the Shia and the Sunni nations are on the verge of escalation. The US-led forces must remember that in 2003 when they set out to occupy Baghdad, immediately the insurgents filled the vacuum in the remote areas. That’s why Al-Qaeda in Iraq explored fertile grounds, taking advantage of the laid back attitude of the US and the Iraqi Government forces. Also the dislodged Government forces joined the ranks of the terror groups in large numbers. This all happened because of the miscalculation of the American forces about the strength of their enemies who were American creations. The remains of the ISIS may be lesser of a problem for the coalition forces. But the danger is that the rag tag militias will definitely gather and start occupying small pockets once the Government forces leave. They will also take advantage of the lethargy of the administration while reassuring and rebuilding the conflict zones. Thus there is all possibility that a small groups of insurgents may resurface in the days to come.
Hope, the city once described by Spanish travel writer Ibn Jubayr in the 12 century as “Overlooking the Tigris, there could be no nobler or more beautiful place to sit in” soon bring back life in the true sense of the term.
(The writer is an expert on international affairs)
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