On 10th June 2014, Mosul was seized by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and has since remained one of the only cities to still be under ISIL occupation in Iraq today.
Mosul is a city situated in Northern Iraq and is an amalgamation of a diverse ethnic and religious population. Large communities of Armenian, Turkic, Kurdish, Yazidi and Arab descent have settled since the turn of the century. It is Iraq’s second-largest city and is home to roughly 2.5 million people.
But how did ISIL come to hold nearly a third of Iraqi territory, establish their core base within the country and declare a modern caliphate?
Well, disagreements between political leaders or officers of Iraq and the shortages of troops and ammunition in Mosul came greatly to their advantage. Then President of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, has been blamed and bought to trial by present leader, Haider al-Abadi, for the fall of Mosul and doing much to limit the power of both Kurdish and Sunni peoples during the years he was in office. His efforts to centralise governance and accumulate power for his government instead of strengthening and securing Iraqi state borders was clearly not in the interest of the Iraqi people. Over time, Al-Maliki’s sectarian government led to a surge in Kurdish nationalism and Sunni insurgency. With such controversy occurring internally, the stage was set for ISIL’s takeover.
Numerous Arab and foreign counterparts have collectively launched the operation to liberate the city from ISIL control earlier on this week. This came about due to the ‘coordination and political understandings among the Iraqi government, armed forces, the police, the Kurdish forces in the north, Sunni tribal forces, Iraqi Shia militia, the US air force and special forces’ as well as ‘other quarters that provide intelligence and logistic support.’ Rami Khouri – senior public policy fellow at the University of Beirut and Harvard University Kennedy School – believes that ‘ISIL’s military weaknesses are being quickly exposed.’ This should then imply ‘a critical new level of shared political appreciation’ between Turkmen, Iranian influenced Shia-Iraqi forces, Sunni and Kurdish quarters.
However, it is primarily because of the disparate military and political agendas pushed forward by each party that major territorial disputes have arisen. This is particularly important, says journalist Ranj Alaadin, as each party ‘sees their influence and control over the province as potential leverage […] over territory, power-sharing and Iraq’s energy resources.’ Therefore, the future political configuration of both Syria and Iraq and their immediate affairs will be significantly influenced by the outcome of this battle.
So, what comes next?
Even if Mosul was to be liberated from the stranglehold of ISIL, it does not have the resources to fund this kind of large-scale rehabilitation programme. It lacks a common and reliable military effort that has collective support from ethnic populations who are capable of controlling it’s borders. Not only this, but Iraq continues to endure instability bought about by ‘corruption, sectarianism and dysfunctional governance, as well as a plethora of Shia militias and a highly fragmented security environment.’
In addition to the political and economical disarray in Iraq, ISIL is perhaps unlikely to face Iraqi forces head on which will force the group to ‘revert to insurgency mode.’ This outcome is perhaps even more disastrous for the allies as it will enable ISIL to integrate into the local population, making it impossible to ‘distinguish between’ jihadi and civilian.