Kurdish Peshmerga fighters pose near a wall on which the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants has been painted over, in the northern Iraqi town of Zumar, October 26, 2014, after having taken it from Islamic State. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
CAIRO - 11 December 2017: Warfare by nature is perforated with wounds, both purposed and self-inflicted. Wounds that have levelled cities and torn families apart. Wounds that ended many lives and made others unliveable. Wounds that clouded beliefs, judgement and perspective. Wounds that have infested the minds of the youth like termites burrowing a vacant space. Wounds that have constructed walls between brothers and mothers. Wounds that have emptied schools of spirit, cities of sense and lives of meaning.
Iraq has been captured by warfare for decades now. As coup after coup took place in the late 1950s and 1960s, Iraq soon found itself embroiled in major conflicts with Iran and the U.S. Traditional inter-state warfare wasn’t enough to satisfy the needs of Saddam Hussein, who crushed any whiff of domestic dissent with brute force and vengeance.
The 2003 U.S.-led invasion promised to sow the seeds of change and prosperity in a country reeling from the effects of extensive sanctions initiated after the Gulf War. “How could the overwhelming firepower of the U.S. not result in a resounding success?” These were the initial expectations of former U.S. President George W. Bush in his presumptuous “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Although in hindsight Bush said he regretted this message, it set the scene for what would prove to be a major miscalculation of U.S. foreign policy.
With Saddam captured, Bush confidently broadcasted that the “dark era” for Iraq was over; however, it had only just begun.
These ancient Mesopotamian lands are far from easy to conquer, as many have tried and failed throughout history. Bush’s claim was followed by years of conflict, as insurgency and guerrilla warfare met counter-insurgency and the might of the U.S.-led coalition. Lines were drawn in sectarian sand, which spiralled uncontrollably and led to the rise of ISIS, who eventually captured a third of the country.
Shias and Sunnis are being rallied to prevent ISIS from -destroying the country - REUTERS
Iraq has, once again, become a “liberated” country. 1,284 days after ISIS marched into Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and 1,253 days since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood in the coveted al-Nuri Mosque and formally declared the foundation of his caliphate, ISIS no longer holds ground. The group was ousted from the country in a prolonged and multinational operation that has been deemed a victory, a success if you will.
But what parameters stipulate success? In this case, the absence of territory held by ISIS is the success. But it is a success that has come at great cost, and a success that suffers more challenges in this final stage.
The victory of the Iraqi security forces, Peshmerga, Hashd al-Shaabi and the international anti-ISIS coalition in crushing the spine of ISIS in Iraq is an undeniably commendable feat that many would have thought was unattainable just three years ago. However, the path of destruction left behind will take decades to repair. While ISIS holds no territory, it lurks in the shadows with members behind any door, in any market or any mosque waiting for the call to fight.
A promising future in Iraq requires a fundamental shift in the political and formal military structure, away from a fragmented state that allows individuals and militia the opportunity to fight for control. Individuals such as Hadi Al-Amiri wield vast influence, both political and military, while advancing the hostile interests of neighbouring Iran. These threats, which entrenched themselves in the context of ISIS’s expansion in Iraq, remain a major threat to the country and the population at large. Although a victory over ISIS has been won, many more victories will be needed.