Defeat in Mosul Will Not Eliminate the Islamic State

Pushing the Islamic State out of Mosul could bring more destruction to the capitals of Europe.

An American airman radios in from a defensive fighting position while on perimeter watch at Qayyarah Airfield West Iraq, November 17, 2016
An American airman radios in from a defensive fighting position while on perimeter watch at Qayyarah Airfield West Iraq, November 17, 2016 (USAF/Jordan Castelan)

As David Downing reported here on Sunday, Mosul could make a quick economic recovery once it is entirely liberated from the self-declared Islamic State by Iraqi government forces.

Not only is the city, once Iraq’s second largest, a hub for northern Iraqi industry and trade; it’s also situated close to major oil and natural gas reserves. The potential for further economic expansion could be close at hand.

The battle will not be over quickly, though. It has been estimated it will take another three to five months to rout the Islamic State from eastern Mosul.

Once the militants are defeated, internal and sectarian divisions could resurface. A Shia-Sunni divide seems inevitable. Mosul being a Sunni majority town doesn’t help the cause for peaceful settlement. Friction between religious groups can hurt reconstruction efforts, especially with the involvement of Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s sanctioned Shia fighters. We are looking at a “game of thrones” mentality where a balance of factions in this enclave becomes quite a task.

Mixed

Mosul has a mixed ethnic makeup. In addition to Muslim groups, Christian Assyrians and Armenians are part of the picture, as are Kurds, Turkmen and Yazidis.

Some 100,000 Christians have fled Mosul and it’s not at all clear many will want to return.

Some Christians have returned to nearby Bakhdida, formerly Iraq’s largest Christian city, where the Islamic State wrecked havoc until October of last year.

A peaceful transition among all ethnic and religious groups would benefit everybody. But the path to reconstruction has many curves with a variety of solutions that may not make all parties happy.

Consequences

While removing the Islamic State from Mosul deprives the group of territory, it certainly doesn’t rid the world of jihadi violence. If anything, more emphasis must be placed on security and policy initiatives that protect citizens from attacks, especially in the West.

Returning Islamic State fighters will pose a serious challenge to law enforcement. Setbacks for the Islamic State in its heartland may inspire more lone-wolf or loosely-organized terrorist attacks of the kind we’ve recently seen in Berlin, Istanbul and Paris. Pushing the Islamic State out of Iraq could bring more destruction to the capitals of Europe and the Middle East.