Victory in Mosul: What you need to know
From Amnesty International’s call for an investigation into civilian deaths to the subsequent shift to the city of Raqqa, here’s what you need to know about this week’s take-back of Mosul, Iraq.
After almost nine months of fighting, the Iraqi army and the U.S-led coalition have liberated the city of Mosul from the Islamic State.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi travelled to Mosul earlier this week to announce the victory, which came three years after ISIS seized the city.
The offence to reclaim Mosul began back in October 2016, with a 100,000 strong coalition that included troops from the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, Shi’ite militias and a coalition made up of U.S., British, French and 200 Canadian Special Forces.
In a statement released Tuesday, Ottawa congratulated the Iraqi army’s victory.
“Canada joins the partners of the Global Coalition Against Daesh in congratulating Iraqis and Iraqi forces on the liberation of Mosul from Daesh control,” read the joint statement from Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan.
The fighting has left the city in ruins from airstrikes and explosions, killed thousands of Mosul residents and forced almost a million to flee their homes.
Here is a look at the significance of the victory and what could be next for the war against ISIS:
Why does Mosul matter?
Mosul came under ISIS control in June 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the leader of the militant group and used the opportunity to announce the creation of a caliphate from the city’s now destroyed al-Nuri mosque. This was significant, symbolically and strategically for ISIS. Symbolically, establishing a caliphate — a so-called state — gave them credibility among foreign supporters.
Strategically, Mosul was Iraq’s second-largest city, once the main industrial hub in Northern Iraq. The city is also close to the border with Syria, including ISIS-controlled territory in that country.
ISIS’ recent defeat in Mosul means the end of the group’s control in Iraq, and with their control in Syria faltering, it could mean the group will return to its insurgent roots.
What challenges lie ahead?
Though ISIS’ defeat is considered to be a major victory in the war against the group, many have been quick to raise concerns around the potential for ISIS, or an ISIS –like group to rise in Iraq again.
"Now it is time for all Iraqis to unite to ensure ISIS (Islamic State) is defeated across the rest of Iraq and that the conditions that led to the rise of ISIS in Iraq are not allowed to return again," U.S. Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the U.S. coalition, said in a statement.
ISIS also continues to hold territory in Syria.
Early last week an assault by U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab forces began to take back Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital and last main stronghold in Syria. Townsend said in an interview with CNN this week that “what was job number two for us, Raqqa, Syria, is now job number one.”
For Mosul, brutal fighting has left large swaths of the city flattened and in ruins. A report last week quoted Lise Grande, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, as saying that rebuilding Mosul’s basic infrastructure could cost more than $1 billion.
An ongoing humanitarian crisis
Mosul was once home to a population of 1.5 million. Fighting has left many civilians either caught in the middle or with no choice but to flee. According to the Iraqi government, around 800,000 civilians have become internally displaced as a result of the fighting. Thousands also remain in the city. “A lot of people are stuck inside the city with very little access to food, water and medical care,” Michael Boyce, Oxfam’s humanitarian policy adviser in Iraq, said in an interview with Al-Jazeera.
Early on in the fighting there were reports that ISIS was using civilians as human shields. More recently, reports stated that in one week alone in late May 231 civilians — some of whom were children — were killed by ISIS as they attempted to flee the city.
Hundreds of civilians have also reportedly been killed by coalition forces, a fact which prompted Amnesty International to call for an investigation just this week.
What’s next for Canada’s involvement?
Between 2014 and when the battle for Mosul started last October, Canada had already committed 200 Special Forces to advise the Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. At the time the Canadian government stated that its Special Forces were not playing a combative role in the fighting.
In June, the government announced it would extend its mission in Iraq until March 31, 2019, with Special Forces continuing to play an advise and assist role (though a recent shooting of an ISIS extremist by a Canadian sniper has made some question the non-combative description). Canadian forces will therefore be present as Iraq's Kurdish community holds a referendum on independence later this year.
In the statement released Tuesday, the Canadian government thanked those involved in training, advising and assisting Iraqi forces and stated that Canada remains committed to helping defeat ISIS and assisting with the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
“In response to the threat [of ISIS], and to the impacts on the broader region, Canada’s $2-billion multi-year engagement in the Middle East will continue to support Iraqis in rebuilding their communities. Canada’s contribution includes humanitarian assistance to help internally displaced persons, as well as support to strengthen and reform Iraq’s security sector and ensure justice and accountability for all Iraqis,” the statement said.