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Victory claimed in Mosul, but other battles loom

  • 14 July 2017


With ongoing celebrations in Baghdad and scenes of devastation in Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the 'liberation' of Iraq's second-largest city from ISIS. This moment, after an umbrella force of military units fought for nine months to relieve Mosul of the ISIS yoke, represents a victory for the people and government of Iraq.

After the battle, however, many challenges loom, among them reconciling conflicting interests amongst Iraq's peoples and restoring the ravaged landscape. Mosul affords a picture of Iraq in miniature: its little-recognised history, its suffering under repressive regimes, its potential and the perils that it still faces.

While in the popular imagination Iraq is often equated with Saddam Hussein's brutal rule and its demographics reduced to an intractable Sunni-Shiite divide, Mosul testifies to Iraq's illustrious history and its human diversity. Among locals it is known as the 'pearl of Iraq'.

Like other cities in Mesopotamia, Mosul was a seat of learning and scholarship during the golden age of the Abbasid caliphs. Marco Polo, visiting in the late 13th century, noted its mix of Arabs, Kurds and Christians of several denominations.

Until the arrival of ISIS, the city was home to one of the most important universities in the Middle East. Within Mosul and its surrounds are many churches, the tombs of biblical prophets Jonah and Daniel, and a diverse population of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmens, Yezidis and Mandaeans.

Mosul's very diversity and tradition of learning were anathema to the unschooled iconoclasts of ISIS, who set about destroying the cultural, religious and historical heritage of the territory they controlled. Music was banned, toys were outlawed and severe restrictions were placed on women. Schools became targets. Students were segregated, and an austere, violent ideology was promulgated through school curricula.

Now, however, Moslawis are moving rapidly to undo the devastations and privations of ISIS's rule. On the east bank of the Tigris, in the first neighbourhoods to be relieved of ISIS, shops sprang up immediately to sell toys and dolls that had previously been banned. Even as the battle in western Mosul raged, a musician held a concert in the Tomb of the Prophet Jonas and children flocked back to schools in eastern Mosul. Child refugees from ISIS commonly remark that attending classes is their way to take 'revenge'.

ISIS militants had focused their iconoclastic fury on Mosul's pre-Islamic treasures, but also on its university, the foremost educational and research facility in Iraq. Facilities were