The battle to re-take Mosul certainly qualifies as a very necessary part in the broader fight against ISIS. However, the harsh reality is that a victory for the coalition forces does not even come close to spelling the end of ISIS, though it could certainly mean the beginning of the end for the Islamic State.
The battle to re-take Mosul from ISIS will soon enter its eighth week and as suggested earlier, it has evolved into a long, protracted and bloody confrontation that by some estimates could last for six months.
For ISIS, Mosul represents its last stronghold in Iraq. For the governments of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan it represents a recovery of lands conquered by ISIS in 2014 and for the United States it represents a chance to validate outgoing President Barack Obama’s doctrine of keeping American involvement to the barest minimum commitment.
Understanding the significance of the very confusing battle for Mosul starts with grasping the complex assembly of armed forces involved: Peshmerga Kurds, Sunni militia loyal to the central government of Iraq, Shia militias, including Turkmen Yazidi and Christian fighters, and at last report 5,000 American personnel and American air support.
While this alliance more than likely means a winning combination in the battle for Mosul it likely holds the seeds of future antagonisms. One of the major reasons for the rise of ISIS is what is often called the Sunni-Shia divide, referring to the intractable differences between the Sunnis and the Shiites, the two main divisions of Islam. ISIS consists of mainly Sunni fighters and a part of their success was the support of disaffected Sunnis who felt disadvantaged by the Shia-dominated government of Iraq.
The consequences of this final battle on the Iraqi side of the border are enormous, starting with widespread military and civilian casualties. When ISIS loses control of Mosul, and with it loses all grasp of its Iraqi territory, the Iraqi government and perhaps the coalition powers will have to deal with several cities in ruins or near ruins, such as Mosul and Fallujah. When ISIS lost Fallujah it left behind a devastated city with human cages, explosive booby traps, wounded, dead and missing individuals and there is no reason to believe that Mosul will be very different.
Moreover, the Shi’ite government – to the extent that there will be a coherent government – will have to find a way to reconcile with the disenfranchised Sunnis whose predicament often led them to side with ISIS and support it. Saying for the moment that ISIS is completely evicted from Iraq, the government there faces a long period of reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. re-building of an entire nation and reaching an accommodation with the Kurds who will understandably want complete independence. Syria and Libya will also need reconciliation among opposing forces and re-building if and when hostilities cease. Syria has several wars gong on simultaneously and Libya has three factions claiming to be the legitimate government.
Meanwhile, the ISIS fighters not killed or captured will not retire to quiet lives. It can be expected that these jihadists will operate as insurgents, going back to their pre-Islamic State roots and wreaking as much damage as possible.
Where they could go from there remains to be seen but the atmosphere of fear created by ISIS continues, regardless of events at Mosul. At time of writing the United States State Department continues its state of alert for travel to Europe and in Tunisia the armed forces continue breaking jihadist cells.
Meanwhile, if another demonstration of the power of an ISIS threat are needed, American armed forces will be on full alert in Washington as a response to ISIS’ threat to stage a ‘bloody Friday’ to mark President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration in January. That along with ISIS’s previous calls to lone wolves to wreak as much damage as possible with whatever weapons they have available. ISIS even provided its believers with a list of the vehicles most suited to ramming into crowds of people and killing as many as possible. All of these and other factors and more suggest that the fate of the Islamic State as a geographical entity and the fate of ISIS as a jihadist group are not necessarily the same.
The battle for the rest of the Islamic State — the part within Syria — will be even more complex than the battle for the part within Iraq. President-elect Donal Trump — in sorting out his foreign policies — will have to choose between the longstanding American goal of helping Syrian President Bashir al-Assad retire to another country and giving the priority to the fight against ISIS.
And in the very unlikely event that ISIS totally falls apart, Al Qaeda, its former parent and now a bitter rival for supremacy n regional terrorism stands ready to take advantage of ISIS’s fall from power.
Following nearly two years of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate has been published. It goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead. It is available at all major online book sites including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.