The “liberation” of Mosul and the future of a post-ISIS Iraq

A harrowing image of a desecrated Mosul [Image: Daily Sabah]

Dr Anas Altikriti is the CEO and founder of the Cordoba Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter @anasaltikriti


Dr Anas Altikriti questions whether Mosul can really be celebrated as a “liberated” city, and if not, what the future hold for a post-ISIS Iraq. 

On the 9th of July, Mosul was declared liberated from the clutches of the so-called Islamic State, ISIS.

For just over three years, the second largest city in Iraq with a population of over 2 million people, and one of the most important metropoles in a region which has been home to numerous ethnicities, sects and cultures for centuries, was totally beyond the rule of Iraq’s government.

Effectively given away in 2014 under the watch of ex-Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, when no more than 1,500 fighters, then described as “a rag-tag force with a lot of weapons” humiliated 25,000 Iraqi soldiers, reducing them to their undergarments scurrying along the highway to Erbil, pleading with passing trucks and vehicles to grant them a ride and conceal their disgrace.

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From ISIS control to “liberation”

Since those scenes and the fall of Mosul, horror stories emerged almost every single day throughout this period of the suffering, oppression and violence inflicted upon the city’s entire population by blood-thirsty ignorant zealots, leading hundreds of thousands, probably up to a million, to flee and voluntarily become refugees in their own country.

Numerous mosques were blown up and historical shrines razed under the pretext that they defied the Islamic principle of monotheism, rendering the city void of its character, culture, and historical significance. Therefore, the vanquishing of ISIS from the city was naturally met with immense relief and scenes of jubilation. However, to ignore the caution, trepidation and apprehension that accompanied those celebrations would be to ignore the reality on the ground.

On one hand, the city of Mosul was reduced to rubble. Literally. Emerging pictures and clips were compared to the mass destruction inflicted upon the likes of Dresden during the bombings of the Second World War or Nagasaki after the US’ Atomic bomb attack.

Reports from eyewitnesses including independent media reporters, state that the Iraqi army and allied forces wouldn’t hesitate to carpet bomb an entire district where ISIS fighters were suspected of hiding, regardless of the civilian population present. Indeed, former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari confirmed that Mosul was essentially carpet bombed, resulting in the killing of 40,000 civilians.

Others would consider this a conservative estimation of the real scale of civilian deaths. Never mind how much the people of Mosul loathed ISIS who themselves committed gross atrocities across the board, to be bombed with such ferocity and disregard for human life never leads to a comfortable feeling towards one’s so-called liberators.

In a tweet I posted at the time, I compared the operation to expel ISIS from Mosul to shooting down a hijacked plane full of passengers, and then celebrating a victory despite the hundreds of lives lost. Almost two months on, nothing that has emerged has changed my evaluation of what had taken place, amid the immeasurable human cost of “liberating” Mosul.

The “liberators”

On the other hand, ISIS has been largely replaced by fighters from various militias along with trigger happy and highly unprofessional under-trained Iraqi soldiers, who would readily blow up an entire building they suspect contains an ISIS fighter or might be booby-trapped, even if civilians were known to be inside.

Iraqi Shia militias in Mosul

Mosul today is going through what numerous Iraqi cities went through several years ago, and continue to endure till this very day. The provinces of Diyala, Salahiddin and Anbar continue to suffer from their respective experiences of being liberated from the clutches of ISIS.


Tens of thousands of families from those provinces who had initially fled the horrors of ISIS, continue to live in exile either within Iraq or as refugees in foreign countries, due to their reluctance to return to areas ransacked by various militias and para-military groups sponsored by major political parties and regional powers. Hence, it is safe to say that the near million refugees of Mosul are bracing themselves for a lengthy time away from their home city.

Post-ISIS Iraq  

Over the past number of months, countless conferences, seminars and media interviews all around the world have discussed the topic of “Post-ISIS Iraq”. Anyone with any appreciation of reality will know that post-ISIS Iraq will be exactly the same as pre-ISIS Iraq; a country divided by sectarian policies, governed by an unworkable political system, ruled by corrupt political parties and politicians amid expansive lawlessness, affording an opportunity to any terrorist trend to find a solid footing within Iraq and its society.

What is truly remarkable about the 10-month war to recapture Mosul is that virtually no images emerged of ISIS’ dead, wounded or captured. The stories of hundreds of ISIS fighters being killed by allied forces strikes or their bases stormed and captured by ground forces never materialised in any pictures of strewn bodies or of humiliated, scared and sorry Daesh soldiers.

ISIS fighters in Iraq in 2015

As a result, conspiracy theories abound regarding thousands of those fighters allowed easy access to Iran or being flown out en masse by American planes to new territories where they would kill and destruct and subsequently create a pretext for an American-led invasion. The theories might be absurd, but surely enquiring after the pictures and clips of ISIS’ casualties and arrests is reasonable?

Indeed, in the last few hours before this piece was written, BBC Arabic, Jerusalem Post and other sources reported a deal struck between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Daesh, allowing hundreds of fighters safe passage into Syrian regions under ISIS control. The claim is that the deal was struck in return for the release of nine Lebanese soldiers held captive by ISIS.

However, considering the immeasurable cost in life and in kind, the devastation inflicted upon countless cities and towns across Iraq and Syria, first occupied by ISIS and then “liberated” from their clutches, one fails not to see the utter absurdity of this.

Whatever the explanation, one thing remains a firm and stark reality; Iraqis remain further from their aspiration of a peaceful and prosperous country than words can describe. So, for those wondering about a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel; it’s not the light that is elusive, it’s the tunnel that cannot even be found.

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