Since 2003, there have been numerous moments that have been hailed as a critical turning point for Iraq. This is yet another opportunity.
Mosul is at a critical juncture after ISIL. We must not squander the opportunity
The Day After ISIL has finally arrived in Mosul. Iraq’s second city has endured unimaginable horrors under ISIL’s reign of terror, and during the nine-month campaign to end it. With more than 60 countries coming together to defeat ISIL, its military demise in Iraq was never really in doubt. However, the question was how it would come about and what happens afterwards. The answer to the how part of the question has been witnessed in Mosul, with a "scorched earth" policy that destroyed everything from the beloved leaning minaret of the Al Nuri mosque, to Mosul's libraries and hospitals. As for what happens next, that in large part depends on the Iraqi government, the various political and military groupings in the country and Iraq’s allies.
The most immediate concern is the humanitarian crisis, with over half of Mosul’s population displaced, hospitals under strain dealing with those with injuries or suffering ailments spanning from malnutrition to war wounds. Dealing with this humanitarian crisis is not only a moral imperative, it is a strategic one, as it will determine how Iraqis can live with one another, and work their way out of the crisis mode that has gripped the country for years.
The people of Mosul, or Maslawis, need to be given a stake in their future – and in the future of all of Iraq. After being abandoned in June 2014, Maslawis have felt that the government failed in their duty to protect them as citizens. The army was not given the order to fight and defend the city, leading to ISIL’s horrific control of the city and its destruction. However, some trust has been restored in the current prime minister Haider Al Abadi, who has been personally invested in liberating Iraqi territories seized by ISIL. He was brought in as prime minister after the disastrous rule of Nouri Al Maliki who many blame for the fall of nearly a third of Iraqi territory to ISIL. Demands for a public inquiry into the decisions he made have yet to be met. He remains in power as Iraq’s vice president and has aligned himself closely with elements of the Popular Mobilisation Units. The PMUs were born as fighting forces and now the fight is coming to a close. Iraq’s army and police, under the Iraqi flag, must be the forces of the Iraqi state. The classical definition of the state is that which holds the monopoly over the use of force, thus this issue is of paramount importance.
And yet, this issue will likely not be solved, especially as the Iraqi parliament voted to institutionalise the PMUs. However, what can be dealt with is deciding who holds the power and security over newly-liberated areas. Most Maslawis feel confident in the presence of the Iraqi army, its withdrawal could lead to various militias or untrained police forces to take over the city. This is a direct threat to the much needed security and stability that is required. A clear and direct decision is needed from the Iraqi government on its forces’ responsibility to protect civilians. Security arrangements are intricately linked to governance structures and reconstruction in Mosul.
Reconstruction is needed not only for the hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings destroyed in Mosul, but a reconstruction effort for society is needed. A sense of victimhood and helplessness cannot be attributed to communities based on sect or religion. Giving equitable chances to all is the only way to start reconstructing society.
There is an urgent need to have young men and women in employment. Heavy damage to infrastructure means that rebuilding projects will be plentiful. Employment will keep idle men from picking up arms once again. It will also create a sense of optimism that matters are improving, and give people a stake in the stability of their cities. Rebuilding efforts, especially of schools, hospitals and houses should be given a priority and bureaucratic hurdles must be overcome. Such a move will also have the knock-on effect of restarting a stagnant economy.
It is important to remember that Mosul was in dire straits even before ISIL officially took it over, with militant groups terrorising citizens and organised criminal gangs stifling the city. The attention of both Iraq's government and the international community must be concentrated on dealing with the circumstances that allowed ISIL to find a foothold in Mosul in the first place, otherwise militants will likely re-group. Security, economy and governance vacuums were key ingredients that cannot be allowed to take hold of the post-ISIL moment.
Since 2003, there have been numerous moments that have been hailed as a turning point or critical to the success of Iraq. This is yet another moment and an opportunity. If the Iraqi government, and those who support it, can deal with both immediate needs and deep rooted grievances, Mosul can be a turning point for the better. If short-term measures and unfair political deals rule the day, then only more chaos can be expected.
The Day After is today, and every minute will contribute to how the next chapter of Iraq’s story will be written.