Caliphate capital Mosul freed from ISIS terror: Has anybody noticed?

Special to

metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — After a bitter eight-month fight, the Iraqi military has finally freed Mosul from the brutal grip of Islamic State.

This victory in retaking this key northern city has shattered the terror organization’s invincibility and moreover liberated one of the so-called Caliphate’s twin capitals.

The fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) known as IS or Da’esh in Arabic is far from over. The terrorist group still controls territory in both Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi soldiers last week celebrate the liberation of Mosul from ISIS. / Khalil Dawood / Xinjua / Zuma / TNS
Iraqi soldiers last week celebrate the liberation of Mosul from ISIS. / Khalil Dawood / Xinjua / Zuma / TNS

U.S. Lt General Stephen Townsend, Commander of the allied task force stated, “Make no mistake; this victory alone does not eliminate ISIS and there is still a tough fight ahead. But the loss of one of its twin capitals and a jewel of their so called caliphate is a decisive blow.” Now the allied coalition is tightening the noose on ISIS in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Significant U.S. behind the scenes military efforts helped the Iraqi army secure victory.

Addressing the Security Council, Jan Kubis, the UN’s Special Representative for Iraq stated, “The historic liberation of Mosul should not conceal the fact that the road ahead is extremely challenging.”

After American and allied forces had sufficiently secured Iraq by 2010, the political calculus of the new Obama Administration changed the reality on the ground. It became clear that the U.S. was going to withdraw from Iraq without leaving a sufficient stabilizing force as an insurance policy against any future attacks. Moreover, an inept Baghdad government was more focused on sectarian politics than national unity, thus creating the conditions for the rise of renewed radicalism.

People have already forgotten the bloody debacle. President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces by the end of 2011. In early 2014 Obama jibed that ISIS was a “junior varsity” type terrorist group; just months later the militants would prove him laughably wrong.

By June 2014 Islamic State forces went on the offensive and seized Mosul in what became a humiliating defeat for the Iraqi military and stunning psychological setback for Iraqi sovereignty. The fall of a major city and the loss of significant territory presented the Baghdad government with a near total military collapse in the north.

By Spring 2015, ISIS was on the offensive capturing Ramadi just 70 miles from Baghdad as well Palmyra in Syria. Treasured Assyrian archaeological sites such as Nimrud and Hatra were sacked and plundered by Islamic State.

ISIS lightning expansion in Iraq’s Sunni Muslim Anbar province proved symbolically devastating. Americans viewed the setbacks in Anbar as particularity bitter given the blood spilled by U.S. forces stabilizing the region during the Iraq war.

ISIS has thrived on Iraq’s intra-Islamic divide between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority.

Now in the wake of Mosul’s liberation from ISIS, Jan Kubis conceded, “To turn the gains of the military victory into stability, security, justice and development, the Government will have to do everything possible to give the people back their lives in security and dignity.”

“The fighting may be stopping but the humanitarian crisis has not,” warned Lise Grande, a UN Development Program official. She cited a litany of destruction; of Mosul’s 54 residential districts, 15 are heavily damaged ‘basically flattened,’ and 23 other neighborhoods suffered moderate damage. UN estimates to stabilizing these areas may cost $700 million alone.

Since the start of the fighting last year, nearly 940,000 civilians fled Mosul.

Following the liberation of Mosul President Donald Trump stated, “We have made tremendous progress against ISIS, more in the past 6 months than in the years since ISIS became a major threat. The victory in Mosul, a city where ISIS once proclaimed its so-called ‘caliphate,’ signals that its days in Iraq and Syria are numbered. ”

An unspoken victim of the ISIS rule has been the fate of the once significant Christian minority in Mosul and the Ninevah plain who have faced a decade of persecution. Swedish European parliamentarian Lars Adaktusson, writing in the Jerusalem Post warned, “The disappearance of first Jews and now Christians from most parts of the Middle East means the termination of the historical Middle Eastern mosaic of peoples.”

Ancient Christian communities are being systematically decimated in both Iraq and Syria. Since 2003, the Iraqi Christian population fell from 1.4 million to 275,000.

The spider web of ISIS control over Iraq has receded but has hardly disappeared. Crucially, a combination of renewed American resolve and Iraqi government military commitment has delivered the people of Mosul from the ISIS barbarism. Has anyone noticed?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]