Iraq announces ‘victory’ over ISIS in Mosul

Desert war: Thousands have died and nearly a million residents have fled. © PA

The city had been the last major urban stronghold ISIS held in Iraq. Defeat there leaves it with just a handful of towns and stretches of desert under its control. What comes next?

Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has declared victory over Islamic State forces in Mosul after nearly nine months of bitter fighting to displace the extremist group from the city where it proclaimed its “caliphate”.

Abadi, dressed in black military uniform, travelled to Mosul yesterday to formally reclaim the devastated city, now a shadow of the thriving hub seized by extremists in 2014.

Iraqi forces, backed by US-led air strikes, have been battling to retake Mosul since October 17th last year.

Islamic State militants seized it in June 2014 before taking much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland and proclaiming a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria.

The defeat will be a huge blow for the extremists. At its peak, around 10m people were living under ISIS rule across Iraq and Syria — but last year it lost almost a quarter of its territory. Mosul was its last stronghold in Iraq, and the city where its leader first declared the beginning of a “caliphate” three years ago.

It took the Iraqi army, backed by a US-led coalition, 100 days of fighting to claim victory in the eastern half of the city. ISIS militants learned how to drop bombs with drones; dug vast networks of tunnels under the city; used civilian hostages as “human shields”. The fight was slow and bloody.

The battle for the western half of the city has been even more so. The UN says that around 750,000 civilians were living there in what was a “siege-like” state. The narrow streets made it difficult for the army to fight from inside armoured vehicles, as they did in the east.

But residents had been eagerly awaiting their freedom. One woman told The New York Times: “We are ready to kill ISIS ourselves.”

Now hope can be restored in western Mosul as it was in the eastern part. There daily life has been slowly returning to normal; schools have re-opened and ISIS flags have been destroyed. Life is improving. “I felt as if I had been reborn,” said one headteacher when he returned to work.

A new chapter

For many contemplating the end of ISIS, the sense of relief is palpable. The group’s dream of a territory extending across the Middle East now lies in tatters. It has lost its money, its power, and any twisted appeal it once had. When the battle for Mosul is over, Iraqis can return to the important job of rebuilding their country.

Be careful, warns the BBC’s Paul Wood in The Spectator. “The end of the physical territory of the caliphate will not be the end of the idea of the Islamic State.” The extremists still have strong digital networks, and they can still turn to terrorism. More dangerous still — with their common enemy gone, old divisions in Iraq could soon resurface.

You Decide

  1. How will you feel if ISIS is defeated in Mosul?
  2. What do you think will happen next?

Activities

  1. In pairs, discuss three questions that you would have for a student your age who lives in an area recently liberated from ISIS.
  2. Put together a short briefing on Iraq, including its most recent history.

Some People Say...

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

Jeanette Rankin

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I worry about a battle happening so far away?
Through terrorism and brutality, ISIS has made itself a major enemy of pretty much everyone else in the world. Since 2014, its power has been territorial: capturing cities in Iraq and Syria was its way of showing strength, and it fed its claim to be creating a caliphate. Now that it is losing territory, it is transforming into a different kind of organisation altogether.
Will the battle for Mosul really mean the end of ISIS?
Not yet — it still has control over Raqqa in Syria (which it treats as a kind of capital city), and Palmyra, an ancient Syrian city. And it controls some rural areas in both countries. It is also possible that the group will continue even if it loses all of its territory, operating more like al-Qaeda.

Word Watch

ISIS
Also known as ISIL, Islamic State (IS), and Daesh. The extremist Islamist group came to international attention when it seized territories in Iraq and Syria in 2014. It is also responsible for several terrorist attacks in the West and the Middle East.
Mosul
Once Iraq’s second largest city, it had a population of around two million before ISIS took over. The city is divided into east and west by the River Tigris.
Quarter
According to a January report by IHS Conflict Monitor.
Caliphate
An Islamic state (note the lower-case ‘s’) which is ruled by a “caliph” — a political and religious leader. There is much debate within Islam about what such a state should look like, if it should exist at all.
US-led coalition
Iraq is leading the battle, but being assisted by military forces from several countries including the USA and Britain.
Divisions
Iraq is a complex country — however, some simplistic dividing lines include religious tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims; ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs; and regional tensions inflamed by the rivalry of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Subjects

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