‘Liberation of Mosul heralds Iraq’s precarious governance’

By Joel Lee

Published : Jul 17, 2017 - 17:00
Updated : Jul 17, 2017 - 17:08

Iraq’s top envoy to Korea lauded the hard-won victory against the Islamic State group in Mosul last week, also expressing his appreciation for Seoul’s humanitarian assistance and diplomatic support.

Mosul -- the second-largest city in Iraq -- was recaptured by the Iraqi and US-led coalition forces of 72 nations on July 10, putting an end to a 9-month military operation against IS.

According to Iraqi officials, the IS, also known as Daesh, has been completely driven out of Mosul, which was the seat of its self-proclaimed “caliphate.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the operation a “major victory.”

“Today is a very happy day,” Iraqi Ambassador Wadee B.H. al-Batti told The Korea Herald and other media outlets at a press briefing at the embassy in Seoul on Wednesday. 

Iraqi Ambassador to Korea Wadee B.H. al-Batti (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

“Our military, including its army, militias, federal police, counterterrorism squads, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmarga fighters and others, fought on the front lines backed by the US-led international coalition forces to score a major victory against Daesh. While the coalition forces provided logistics, air cover and other background support, our Iraqi troops were the only ones on the ground engaged in door-to-door urban combat.”

Conceding that the anti-terrorism operation is far from complete, the envoy said the remaining IS soldiers were scattered throughout cities and towns across the country, particularly near the border of Syria in the west.

Mosul being bisected by the Tigris River, it was easier to take control of the city’s east, but the west proved more arduous, he said, with its neighborhoods full of civilians and streets narrow and cramped. The Iraqi government has ordered its military to clear the city of mines, improvised explosives and other dangerous traps before the end of July. Once cleared, administrative authority will be returned to the municipal government of Mosul, which was previously driven out of the city.

“There were a lot of sacrifices. It was a difficult war,” he said, adding the IS used civilians as human shields and terrorized people, carrying out beheadings, stonings, female sex trafficking and using children as suicide bombers. 

In this July 4, 2017 photo, fleeing Iraqi civilians walk past the heavily damaged al-Nuri mosque during fights between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. Iraq’s U.S.-backed forces succeeded in wresting Mosul from the Islamic State group but at the cost of enormous destruction. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this July 4, 2017 photo, the heavily damaged al-Nuri mosque sits as smoke from explosions billow from the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. Iraq’s U.S.-backed forces succeeded in wresting Mosul from the Islamic State group but at the cost of enormous destruction. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In their last desperate attempt, the IS members kidnapped 100 families and used them as human shields, threatening to blow themselves up together upon attack. But the Iraqi military successfully defeated them and rescued the families.

The IS also destroyed historical heritage sites, including cherished crown jewels of Mosul, which has a history of over six millennia and was the ancient capital of the Assyrian dynasty in the 11th century BC. Near the borders with Turkey and Syria in northern Iraq, it connected Europe and Asia through the ancient Silk Road.

The city used to have large petroleum reserves, mining deposits, popular hot springs, hydroelectric plants and well-connected highways and railroads before the war, said al-Batti, a Mosul-native and long-time resident. However, with the IS’ reign of terror, the city’s original population of 2.5 million was reduced to 1.5 million, and over 1 million have become refugees and internally displaced persons.

“Although we defeated them in Mosul, this could be the beginning of a drawn-out war against the terrorists, who operate worldwide using deep connections,” the diplomat stressed.

The IS is also expected to lose Raqqa, its last stronghold in Syria, where US-backed forces have been making advances lately, according to analysts. However, the situation in Syria is more fraught than Iraq, they say, with its multi-sided civil war dragging on for years and outside powers United States, Russia, Iran and Turkey drawn into a tug of war for their diplomatic gains.

This file photo taken on June 10, 2017 shows displaced Iraqis queuing behind a fence at the Hasan Sham camp for internally displaced people, 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Mosul, on June 10, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)

A picture taken on July 12, 2017 shows a general view of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) refugee camp in Hammam al-Alil, on the outskirts of Mosul. (AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA)

“Our new struggle lies in rebuilding and reconstructing our country that has been savagely destroyed, ravaged and mauled,” al-Batti added.

Seoul provided $10 million of humanitarian aid to Iraq through the United Nations and the International Committee of Red Cross last year, in an effort to help more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the country.

According to experts, the recapture of Mosul will significantly weaken the IS by denying them a brick-and-mortar base for their worldwide activities. But the victory does not mean the end of radical ideologies capable of surviving surreptitiously underground, with their ever-more complex strategies and networks.

Preventing terrorist groups from returning will require not just military efforts, but also “concerted efforts to bring order to the political arena, strengthen the rule of law and ensure a broad representation,” wrote Daoud Kuttub, a former professor at Princeton University and leading activist for media freedom in the Middle East, for Project Syndicate.

“More crucially for Iraq, the central government in Baghdad must overcome the sectarianism that has divided the country for decades and intensified after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Sectarianism is an even bigger threat in Iraq than in Syria, a Sunni-majority country ruled by the Assad family that belongs to the minority Alawite sect of Shia Islam.”

French soldiers from the Wagram Task Force kneel next to a unit of CAESAR, a French self-propelled 155 mm howitzer, north of Mosul on July 13, 2017, as the French army provides military support for Iraq forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) group. (AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA)

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi attends victory celebrations over Islamic State militants with a military parade in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday July 15, 2017. Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul after the city was held for around three years by the IS. (Iraqi Prime Minister's Media Office via AP)

Fighting terrorists requires international cooperation, the ambassador asserted, pointing to their clandestine presences worldwide.

“The IS has instilled radical, extremist, fundamentalist ideas in young feeble minds, that they have to protect the Sunnis and Islam,” he said. “Those that join the IS are usually people with problems, like criminals, mentally deranged, outcasts and uneducated. Brainwashed from radical extremist preaching cells, they understood the religion in a distorted way.”

Al-Batti added, “We have to focus on proper education, take care of our youths and integrate different communities into the mainstream society. We should also spread a culture of tolerance and peace as well as a proper understanding of religion.”

Regarding the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Gulf states Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the envoy said Iraq has stayed cleared of the bickering dispute, urging all involved parties to come to an agreement through discussion.

“We believe the region doesn’t need any more discord and conflict on top of what we already have,” he said. “We believe our neighbors and brothers have to work together to promote the development and prosperity of our nations and to fight terrorism.”

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)


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