Almost exactly three years after the Islamic State or Daesh captured Mosul, the biggest urban centre of their “caliphate”, the city has been liberated by Iraqi forces. For Daesh, the loss of Mosul cannot be understated. It was the capture of Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people, the second largest in Baghdad, more than anything else, that established the IS as a force to reckon with.
It was an ideology that was in occupation of a territory. From the city’s 12th century Grand al-Nuri mosque in Mosul’s old city, now in ruins, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared the caliphate. From Mosul, the IS traded in oil with neighbouring countries and used terror to rule over local populations. The IS flag has now been taken down from the mosque, and the Iraqi flag flutters on the bank of the River Tigris. Al Baghdadi, too, is almost certainly dead. During the nine-month battle, a US-led international coalition conducted air strikes and assisted Iraqi forces, while the Iraqi Army’s Counterterrorism Service led the battle on the ground, losing over a 1,000 men according to one estimate.
In Iraq, the IS does not occupy any significant territory anymore, but is still present in pockets and could resort to terrorist attacks. Outside the country, IS still holds the city of Raqqa in Syria, its de facto capital, though much smaller than Mosul.But there is a bigger battle to be fought against the IS, one that has to be waged worldwide, to win back minds lost to its toxic interpretation of Islam. There are IS franchisees across the world, and with the group’s most significant territorial possession gone, these operatives, who work either as lone wolves or in small bands, will be looking to avenge the Mosul defeat.
From France to Germany, Belgium to the UK, several in the wave of terror attacks in Europe have been directly claimed by the IS or it has claimed to have influenced the perpetrators. Indonesia recently said 1,200 IS fighters are in the Philippines, and 40 of them are Indonesian. In India, the NIA has tracked and arrested some 50 IS recruits since 2014, including those who returned from Iraq after spending time with the group. The estimates of other Indian youth brainwashed by the IS varies from about a few dozen to a couple of hundred. All this underlines the challenge ahead.
In Iraq itself, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s primary focus should be an offer of credible power-sharing and reconciliation with the country’s Sunni population, politically marginalised since the 2003 US military ouster of Saddam Hussein, who readily welcomed the IS, at first as protection against a sectarian-minded Shi’ite centre. The task of physical reconstruction of the liberated areas is massive, but has to be carried out if normalcy is to return. India must play its part in the international effort to help Iraq get back on its feet.