After a grueling nine-month ordeal, the brutal conflict for the Iraqi city of Mosul is virtually over. Coalition forces have managed to push the Islamic State (ISIS) out of the city. There are a few pockets of Islamic State operatives that remain, but for all intents and purposes, the Iraqi government has won this conflict.
On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came to Mosul to congratulate the Iraqi security forces on their victory. Although there is more work to be done, the Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul may be the beginning of the end for the terrorist group.
In June of 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood in the city’s medieval-era mosque and declared that ISIS would impose a caliphate that would span the borders of Syria and Iraq. Upon seizing the city, the radical organization implemented a harsh form of Sharia Law. ISIS operatives carried out mass executions and beheadings. They forced women and young girls to become sex slaves. They ruthlessly persecuted religious minorities in the area. Their subjugation of the city forced civilians to live in a state of perpetual terror.
The Iraqi security forces – with help from the U.S. – launched their campaign against ISIS nine months ago. Although they hoped for a short battle, the Islamic State managed to mount a strong defense. An Iraqi general told The New York Times that the security forces had to “fight for each meter.” That fighting involved house-to-house combat and sniper fire.
While the Iraqi government does not typically release the number of their casualties, reports claim that over one thousand soldiers lost their lives in the conflict. Many civilians died as well – ISIS killed most. Reports indicate that the terrorist organization used women and children as human shields.
The battle has severely weakened the Islamic State. The Washington Post states that ISIS has “lost more than 60% of its territory and 80% of its revenue.” A resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy told The Post that “ISIS is no longer the same” after losing Mosul. He continued: “It’s no longer the quasi-state that it used to be.” While many in the West are glad that the battle for Mosul is over, they are left wondering what comes next.
ISIS may have suffered a devastating defeat in Mosul, but the Iraqi security forces have a long way to go before destroying radical Islamic terrorism. They will still deal with suicide bombers and Islamic State sleeper cells. Iraq’s forces must also remove the group from its other strongholds.
There is also the concern that other terrorist groups may emerge in the wake of ISIS’ downfall. Violence between Arabs and Kurds could break out in the disputed territories, or other groups supported by Turkey and Iran could gain influence at an increased rate. What is also troubling is that it seems the Iraqi government has not planned for the aftermath of the battle. A high-ranking Iraqi official claimed that each time they brought up this issue, Prime Minister al-Abadi told them to “wait until military operations are over.”
There are also concerns about the future of ISIS, especially in the West. The terrorist group has already stated that if they are unable to hold on to their territory, they will resort to using online propaganda and launching terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. They have already infiltrated many European nations. This year, Europe has experienced an Islamic terror attack every nine days. If the West fails to prevent ISIS from entering their countries, there could be a significant increase in the number of terrorist incidents. We must also ensure that we encourage immigrants to assimilate into our culture rather than setting up their communities separate from the mainstream society.
The West must also find a way to curb radical Islamic propaganda online. ISIS is known for using social media and other resources to reach people who might be vulnerable to radicalization. The United States has experienced multiple attacks at the hands of homegrown terrorists. While reinforcing the idea of assimilation will help to prevent this, we must also ensure that the Islamic state is not able to use their content to create more domestic terrorists – a tricky situation considering concerns over free speech.
The defeat of ISIS in Mosul is worth celebration. It is a significant victory for Iraq and the West. However, radical Islamic extremism is still a threat to the rest of the world. If we are to remain a free society, our government must continue to aggressively pursue policies that empower us to protect ourselves from this threat.