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The Looming Defeat of ISIS in Mosul Puts Iraq At A Crossroads

The liberation of Mosul and the wider Ninevah province from the Islamic State group (ISIS) and its brutal Salafist jihadi doctrine is the subject of many Iraqi conversations. To capitalize on the lessons learned from the bloody three-year battle, Iraqis must take stock of the political process.

Liberation is not a solution in itself and fundamental questions need to be asked: Do Iraqis want a united or divided country (in everything but name)? What is better, a federal system or a confederation? Should there be a state dominated by the center or decentralized provinces with new and broad powers?

Was ISIS’ occupation of large swaths of Iraqi territory a sufficient warning of the fragility of the country's political system, governance and social cohesion? Or do Iraqis (God forbid) need another horrific wake up call that will lead to the end of Iraq as we know it? Can one say with confidence that Iraqi parties have failed to learn from the lessons of the crisis? Different factions have used the state to service their own narrow interests, taking advantage of the chaos when Iraq faced its greatest existential crisis.

What are the doses of antibiotics required in the Iraqi body so that terrorism departs for good? This is an urgent question that all Iraqis need to answer. We shouldn’t forget that when the liberation of Mosul is complete, the eyes of the international coalition will turn west towards Syria. Iraq is not immune from what is taking place next door. The government, NGOs and the international community must create a new environment in the liberated areas for social justice and work on a new formula for coexistence.

Despite all these challenges, Iraqis have shown the rest of the world that they have the strength of character to develop the country’s social and political fabric. Once Iraq has addressed the grand questions of rule of law, governance, revenue distribution and identity,the focus must then shift to defining a new political culture in Iraq and creating a roadmap for a confederation with the Kurdistan Regional Government, the most viable formula for coexistence with the Kurds.

Decentralization has to be accelerated, corruption addressed, a population census--long overdue--must be conducted for country-wide planning. Finally, missing legislation must be voted for, including the long-awaited oil law. It won’t be easy, but these are urgent and important moves for the people and future of Iraq.

Governing Iraq after liberation will be the real acid test of Iraqi leadership, especially with the recognition that the state is being weakened from within. The liberation of Mosul must be the start of the nation’s recovery, otherwise, warlords, camouflaged by different names and fronts, will prevail.

It is important to remember that the presence of ISIS militants in Mosul created a new generation of young supporters, here it is necessary to admit that a new mutation of the group will be no less evil and acts of terrorism will continue, as we saw in the recent bombing attack at the Karada ice cream parlor. The threat has the potential to move inside cities, as well as some areas that remain outside the state’s authority. Let us not allow the liberation of Mosul be a stop-gap before the next wave of extremism.

Leaders must lead, and not be led.


Lukman Faily

June 10th 2017