Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi shakes hands with army officers in Mosul, Iraq, on July 9, 2017. Mosul came under IS control in June 2014. In October 2016, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the battle to liberate Mosul. Eastern Mosul was liberated late January this year. On June 18, Iraqi army launched the offensive to liberate the Old City, the last district still held by IS militants in western Mosul. (Xinhua/Office of Iraqi Prime Minister)
BAGHDAD/CAIRO, July 9 (Xinhua) -- Liberating Mosul from the rule of Islamic State (IS) is a great victory for Iraq's anti-terror war, but the war-torn country still faces huge challenges of national reconstruction and reconciliation, experts said.
Mosul, the capital city of Iraq's northern province of Nineveh and the second largest Iraqi city, was liberated by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition after a nine-month fierce battle to drive out IS, which used the city as its de facto capital.
It was in Mosul that IS leader Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared in 2014 the establishment of Islamic State (IS), a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The fall of Mosul symbolizes the collapse of IS in Iraq.
No doubt, the victory in Mosul opened doors for national reconstruction and reconciliation, as desired by most Iraqis after suffering from years of violence, war and destruction.
However, due to competing influence of many regional and foreign powers, as well as tribal and ethic rifts, the country faces huge challenges in its long road to reconciliation.
A GREAT VICTORY IN IRAQ'S ANTI-TERROR WAR
"The recapture of the city was a great victory in the anti-terrorism war. It broke the back of the terrorist group, demolishing its self-declared state of Islamic 'caliphate' in Iraq and Syria," Abdullah al-Jubouri, an Iraqi army officer, told Xinhua.
He said that the victory is "a complete reversal of IS sweep" and would leave the militant group only a few and isolated pockets of territories in Iraq.
Hossam El Dajny, a Palestinian political analyst, told Xinhua that the loss of Mosul dealt "a severe blow" to IS, as it is a symbol of the Islamic caliphate it wants to create.
Adam Hoffman, researcher at the Moshe Danyan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel, told Xinhua that Mosul has been the hallmark of the IS caliphate, so its liberation is "hugely symbolic and important" for Iraq because it is a very serious blow to the caliphate.
Experts also said that Mosul's liberation will pave the way for national reconstruction and reconciliation in the post-IS era.
"The defeat of the extremist Sunni IS group would be very helpful for the country's national reconciliation, as the defeat of the group means the defeat of the violent option for all conflicting parties," Ibrahim al-Ameri, an Iraqi political analyst, told Xinhua.
IS' THREAT TO REMAIN FOR TIME TO COME
Despite the IS defeat in Mosul, experts warned that IS as a terror threat will not be over for a while, as it could seek to regroup or launch massive revenge attacks around the world.
Al-Jubouri said the loss of Mosul will push IS to find an alternative land to continue its Jihad, or holy war, against the Iraqi government.
IS militants could be forced to flee to a few and isolated pockets of territories in Iraq, and depend more on "sleeper cells" across the urban areas to launch attacks in future, he said.
Netanel Avneri, an expert on Middle East and Islam at Israel's Bar Ilan University, told Xinhua that IS could resume behaving like a guerrilla organization hiding in the desert area in western Iraq, riding on pickups, and launching sudden raids against targets before quickly escaping back to their bases.
Most experts agreed that the defeat on battlefields in the Middle East would motivate IS to launch revenge attacks, particularly in the West.
Itler Turan, professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey, told Xinhua that IS, like other terror groups in decline, will take dramatic actions "in order to remind everyone that they are alive and well."
Muhammad Hijazzi, a Palestinian political analyst, said IS has a plan called "The Waiting Wolves," under which some of its members have emigrated to Western countries, waiting for the order to launch attacks at any time.
These IS members could start suicide operations and bombings not only in Europe but other places as well in retaliation, he said.
Hoffman said Mosul's fall doesn't mean the end of IS yet, citing the group is still capable of launching guerrilla attacks, sometimes even sending suicide bombers, to attack Iraqi security forces.
He added that he will not be surprised if IS carries out terror attacks around the world, particularly in the West, for retaliation. "It is not a new phenomena. This has been a trend that has been going on for two or three years, probably even longer than that," he said.
CHALLENGES IN POST-WAR RECONSTRUCTION AND RECONCILIATION
After defeating IS, Iraq is to enter the post-IS era of national reconstruction and reconciliation. However, experts predicted that Iraq faces big challenges in the process as it is a complex mosaic of tribes, ethic and religious groups and factions influenced by different foreign powers.
It is estimated that the reconstruction in the war-torn Iraq needs at least 1 billion U.S. dollars, a financial burden that the country apparently cannot shoulder by itself.
Experts said the international community, especially the U.S.-led Western powers, need to provide urgent aid to Iraq to help it heal the wounds from the war. Otherwise, the gains in the battle to defeat IS could be lost very quickly and lead to renewed conflicts and resurgence of terror groups like IS.
"Iraq was the victim of United States' unilateralism, and now Iraq is fighting terrorism on behalf of the world, and my country needs the world's cooperation to end terrorism, bring back stability, and help rebuild the cities and towns which were destroyed by the anti-IS offensive," al-Ameri said.
Hijazzi suggested that the U.S. should lead an international project to help Iraq with its post-war reconstruction. "I think that Iraq needs a Marshall project..., which is the responsibility of the U.S.," he said.
He was referring to the four-year 13-billion-dollar project initiated by the U.S. to help Western European countries rebuild their economies in the post-World War II era.
For many experts, they are more worried about the post-war reconciliation, which could prove to be a harder job than rebuilding the economy.
Al-Ameri said the situation in Mosul and other Iraqi areas will be very complicated, as various ethic and religious factions and groups will jostle for sharing of power.
First, IS rule of cities like Mosul has sowed seeds of hatred and division, and the defeat of IS could lead to chaos and reprisal killings that could bring some cities back to civil strife.
Second, each party or faction in Iraq will use any possible means to reshape the political landscape for their own interests in the post-IS period.
Al-Ameri noted that the liberation of Mosul involved a number of regional and foreign forces. Different armed groups fighting IS militants sometimes also fight with each other as they are usually rivals with different ethic and religious backgrounds.
"The power struggle among the central government, the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite factions, will be more intense," Al-Ameri said.
Turan said that the conditions that created IS still exist in Iraq after the defeat of IS. The Iraqi government continues to be mainly a sectarian Shiite government and the Sunnis in the country will have difficulty in accepting such a regime.
He also expressed concern about the future relations between Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government, as tensions have increased between them over the the latter's intention to seek independence, a step also opposed by even Turkey and Iran.
The tensions between Kurds and Arabs "will create ethnic problems that may be as serious as the sectarian ones between the Sunnis and Shiites," Al-Ameri said.
He said the post-IS strategy in Iraq will need increased efforts in terms of effective power-sharing, including greater decentralization for the Kurdish region as well as for the provinces.
Sabah al-Sheikh, a teacher of politics at Baghdad University, told Xinhua that the U.S. or Iran's involvement in the post-IS Iraqi politics could complicate the political situation.
"The United States wants to be part of redrawing the map of influence in Iraq, in order to decrease the Iranian role in the country," al-Sheikh said.
Since the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, Iran and its Iraqi Shiite parties and militias have gained greater influence in Iraq, even more powerful than the government's institutions, he said.
"If the moderate politicians, such as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, are weakened in Iraq by these Iranian parties, Iraq will slide slowly into a civil war again and Daesh (IS) or its successor will fill this vacuum," al-Sheikh warned.