(CIVIC/Maranie Rae Staab)
By Saman Omar, Program Officer in Iraq
On June 29, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared the fall of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul after Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) took what was left of the 12th-century al-Nuri Mosque, where ISIS leader Abu Bakar Baghdadi announced the creation of the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate in 2014.
Just over a week before Abadi’s declaration, ISIS had blown up the mosque’s famous “leaning minaret” in a display that Abadi said was an indication of the imminent defeat of ISIS in Mosul.
As an Iraqi, the symbolism of ISIS’ defeat cannot be overstated. The end of ISIS in Iraq is a huge win to all Iraqis who have suffered unimaginable losses of life, property, and human dignity. We saw our territory taken over by a ruthless band of killers with no respect for human life and intolerant of those who followed different faiths. We saw hundreds of years of religious and cultural artifacts of Iraq destroyed. ISIS’ reign of death, torture, abductions, rape, and enslavement has been one of the darkest chapters in the history of Iraq, and it has left deep emotional and psychological scars.
As the Iraq Program Officer for Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), my colleagues and I visited west Mosul in June. I was shocked at the scale of destruction. ISIS had rigged buildings and roads with explosives, and hidden within civilians’ homes in the hopes of causing mass casualties when the coalition bombed ISIS fighters. Snipers shot dead civilians trying to flee, and those holed up in basements to avoid certain death lacked food or clean water. I met many who were lucky to survive the fighting in west Mosul, but their suffering cannot be fully captured in writing. Nevertheless, I am inspired by their zeal and strength to survive.
But the challenges after the battle for Mosul are immense. Liberated areas in west Mosul are still insecure. The lack of food, water, electricity, and security are the biggest challenges. The area is littered with unexploded bombs that pose grave dangers to civilians returning home. Iraqi government officials estimate that it will take US$100 billion, over ten years, to rebuild areas damaged in the fight against ISIS.
In addition to rebuilding infrastructure and restoring public services, Moslawis told us that it’s also essential to rebuild confidence between the Iraqi government and the Sunni-majority population. Support for ISIS in Mosul and other Sunni areas was in retaliation to Shia-dominated rule from Baghdad that marginalized Sunnis and turned a blind eye to sectarian abuse by Shia-dominated security forces. This is a delicate time for Iraqis and much depends on how and whether Baghdad shapes government institutions and security forces to be inclusive and respectful of human rights. The government should protect all Iraqis. After ISIS’ defeat, Iraqis are being given another chance to chart a better course for our future. It is incumbent on us all, as well as the international community providing support to the government, to ensure a lasting peace.