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The Challenges After Mosul

Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi security forces deserved to celebrate after re-establishing control over Mosul, which ISIS occupied for three years in its bloody quest for a caliphate.

The celebration should be brief. There is still plenty of urgent work to be done — by Iraqis, the United States, regional neighbors and others — to stabilize Iraq and Syria while also working to counter ISIS’ insidious ideology. And a new report about the high civilian casualty rate demands that President Trump and the Pentagon rethink how the war is being fought.

The focus among ISIS’ foes has been killing the terrorists in Iraq and in Syria, where American-backed Syrian forces are closer to recapturing ISIS headquarters, in Raqqa. The longer-term challenge will be addressing the complex factors that have created conditions for the group to thrive, including destructive rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, corruption and the failure of governments to meet their citizens’ economic and security needs.

In Mosul, there are pockets of resistance and residual threats from ISIS sleeper cells, suicide bombers and houses rigged with explosives. Any satisfaction over the military success must be tempered by the high death toll, with perhaps over 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians killed in nine months of fighting. ISIS used civilians as human shields, while Iraqi and the American-led coalition forces could have done more to protect civilians, says a new report by Amnesty International.

Mosul residents have been left traumatized by the psychological, sexual and physical violence suffered during three years of ISIS control. The city has been devastated, including the iconic Al Nuri mosque and much of the rest of its religious and cultural heritage. At least $1 billion is needed for reconstruction so that thousands of displaced Iraqis can return home. The coalition of nations that joined with America to fight ISIS has raised funds through the United Nations to rebuild Iraq and Syria; some are meeting in Washington this week to decide on future steps.

The obvious question is, what comes next? The Trump administration has so far failed to put forward a comprehensive strategy to deal with postwar reconstruction in Mosul and other challenges. The White House is reportedly debating whether to get involved in Iraq’s long-term recovery, the kind of overseas venture Mr. Trump disparaged during the election campaign. His proposal to greatly reduce the State Department aid budget would limit what America could do. Iraqis bear the primary responsibility for stabilizing their country, but they cannot do it without help.

One unanswered question is how to ensure that Iraq’s Shiite-led government guarantees the Sunni minority security and brings Sunnis into the political process. Its failure to do so, dating back to 2003, when the Americans invaded and deposed Saddam Hussein, created the fertile ground in which ISIS flourished. Mr. Abadi has been more inclusive than his predecessor, but there is a long way to go. Serious efforts are also needed to curb corruption, which undermines public trust.

Tensions between Kurds and Iraqis in northern Iraq must be managed, as must Kurdish aspirations for independence in Iraqi Kurdistan. Preventing Iran from expanding its influence in Iraq and in Syria, where with Russia it is a major ally of the Assad regime, is also important. Left unaddressed, such situations will continue to roil Iraqi politics and lead to new conflicts that ISIS can exploit.

Another dilemma is what to do about the ISIS fighters who are even now melting back into local communities to regroup, not just in the Middle East but in far-flung parts of the globe. There must also be efforts at the local level to persuade young people not to join militant groups that manipulate Islam for violent purposes.

Iraq squandered one opportunity to remake itself into a stable and pluralistic country. With ISIS on the run, it should seize this second chance.

Last Modified: Wednesday، 12 July 2017 09:33 PM