Sunday, July 9, 2017

Iraq declares victory in Battle of Mosul.

An Iraqi soldier. ABC/AFP.

Iraq has declared victory in the Battle of Mosul, despite pockets of ISIS fighters remaining in the city. ABC News. Iraqi special forces placed the Iraqi flag on the shore of the Euphrates River while Iraq's Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi declared victory on Twitter. Despite the deceleration of victory, ISIS fighters still remain in Mosul, though having been greatly reduced. The group still holds some hostages for human shields and are continuing to attack Iraqi forces using suicide bombers. Mosul was the largest city captured by ISIS to date and their main base in Iraq. Losing the city is a massive victory against ISIS.

My Comment:
I wonder if this declaration is a bit premature. I remember during the war in Libya, the city of Sirte, the main city captured by ISIS in that country, was declared liberated quite a few times but it was weeks after before the battle was actually won.

It seems like the same thing might happen in Mosul. Though ISIS doesn't control much in the city, they still have a few fighters in the Old City. Indeed, there is still fierce fighting going on there. Given how fanatical ISIS fighters are and the fact that those trapped fighters have nowhere to flee too, Iraqi forces will have to kill every single one of them. That will require house to house fighting, which will be complicated by the hostages ISIS is keeping.

Still, it's not like the issue is in doubt. ISIS is not going to send in a massive relief column to beat back Iraqi forces and rescue the ISIS fighters trapped in Mosul. Even if they wanted to do so, they don't have the forces to do so and would have to fight through dozens of miles of Iraqi and Kurdish controlled areas.

This is the largest defeat that ISIS has had since the beginning of the war. Sure, the reversal of momentum where the started to lose territory instead of gaining it was a huge milestone. And the liberation of the various cites in central Iraq, including Fallujah and Ramadi was also a huge defeat, but not as big as this one. Even getting almost completely kicked out of Libya doesn't reach this level of defeat.

Why? Because Mosul is where ISIS became a state and not just another terrorist group. Before they drove Iraqi forces out of Mosul, ISIS was just another of the various terror groups running around in the middle east, overshadowed by al-Qaeda and al-Nusra. After Mosul they were the world's premier terror group and a defacto state with control of the lives of almost a million people. Sure, they had captured Fallujah before that, but Mosul is what got them into the news. Only the city of Dabiq, an important city in Syria that supposedly has a role in the Islamic version of the Apocalypse, has more symbolic value, but none had anywhere near the strategic value of Mosul.

With ISIS all but kicked out of Mosul it's tempting to think that the war in Iraq will finally be over. That would also be premature. ISIS still controls large chunks of Iraq. ISIS controls Tal-Afar in western Iraq and a large patch of territory near Kirkuk in central Iraq and quite a few villages and towns near the border of Syria. Liberating those cities from ISIS will take time and some of those battles are expected to be brutal. Especially Tal-Afar, where many of ISIS's most vicious and evil fighters live.

And ISIS still controls massive amounts of territory in Syria, including the besieged capital of Raqqa and the critically important hub of Dier ez Zor. Though ISIS is being pushed back and systemically destroyed in Syria, until that process is complete, ISIS is still a threat. They have risen from the ashes of total defeat before, back when they were al-Qaeda in Iraq, and they could do so again.

What is needed is vigilance in Iraq and the assurance that what happened in Mosul won't happen again. The ugly truth is that Iraq had the forces and weapons to defend Mosul in the first place, but they lost the city because their army broke. The factors that led to the Army breaking are still there. Iraq is still corrupt and divided by sectarian lines. Iraq must work on those issues to ensure that ISIS can't ever come back...

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