Toxic victory? Loose ends of the battle for Mosul

Toxic victory? Loose ends of the battle for Mosul
5 min read
23 October, 2016
In-depth: Victory in Mosul, no matter how long it takes and its cost, is a foregone conclusion. But many loose-ends will have to be dealt with to avoid IS' reincarnation.
Caveat: Victory in Mosul could have many toxic loose ends [AFP]
The battle for Mosul, once eventually concluded with some kind of a decision against Islamic State, could create as many problems as it will resolve.

The battle will no doubt be protracted and costly. The Iraqi forces led by the army with support from Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal forces and Shia militias, are taking villages on the outskirts of Mosul but the "epic" urban showdown that is yet to come will be a different game altogether. IS is also evidently still able to mount formidable counter-attacks on major cities, such as Kirkuk.

Only clairvoyants -- or political analysts -- can therefore claim to predict what will happen; the rule of thumb in the Middle East by now should be that all attempts at divining events must be abandoned with haste.

Yet we may be able to forecast in which direction events may proceed.

Underground in Iraq

At first, it is fair to assume the bulk of its fighting assets will be moved to its remaining strongholds in Syria while maintaining low-level partisan-like presence in pockets in Mosul, a large city with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, and in surrounding regions and elsewhere in Iraq. IS will seek to maintain some kind of insurgency in tandem with the ability to continue to mount terrorist attacks in Iraq.

Once IS is also eventually driven out of Syria -- another awesome task, but then it is outnumbered by a multination coalition and multiple internal foes -- the group is also likely to survive as a new mutant version of al-Qaeda.

This seems to be the trajectory of events predicted by experts, such as Renad Mansour and Saad Aldouri in a recent article published by UK think tank Chatham House.

"While command and control of the city is likely to be achieved following the battle, it is unlikely that ISIS supporters will be totally removed from the city," they argue in the article. "Their operations will go underground and transform into more of an insurgency movement just as al-Qaeda in Iraq did when it was defeated...in 2008."

In a reply to a Twitter message, Mr. Mansour told The New Arab that similar to al-Qaeda in Iraq, "the movement (be it) ISIS or another form, may go underground and await another opportunity."

To reduce the risk of this scenario, the population of Mosul and Sunni-majority regions of Iraq need to be enfranchised and empowerd in post-IS Iraq. Without a tangible and effective administration, at either national or local levels, and without political representation of the Sunni population appropriate to what is at stake, a return to stability is far from certain. 

This task, the experts argue, is made more complex by the competing agendas of the various sides taking part in the battle for Mosul, from the US to Turkey, to Baghdad and the Kurds. "Without a comprehensive political deal, the military victory will only be a short-term solution....a band aid, eventually allowing the re-emergence of ISIS or a reincarnation of it in the future."
The movement (be it) ISIS or another form, may go underground and await another opportunity
The jihadist crescent

In the region, Iraq's neighbours are bracing themselves for the aftershocks of the recovery of Mosul.

An influx of IS fighters to Syria, the nearest destination for those who will flee from Mosul and Western Iraq, will certainly complicate efforts to recapture Raqqa for the parties vying to do the honour: Turkish-backed rebels, US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters, and Russian-backed regime forces.

ًWhile the balance of power is not in IS's favour even in Syria, no one must underestimate their ability to turn the tables and exploit weaknesses, to mount counter-attacks and seize territory in Syria either from the regime or its other foes.

One should also expect more opportunistic terrorist attacks where IS cannot mount offensives.

In the meantime, Turkey is already bracing for an increased terror threat from IS, partly the driving force behind its incursion into Syria.

Lebanon, Jordan and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia are also vulnerable.

Lebanese officials and the powerful Hizballah militia, involved in the fight against Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria, are stepping up their vigilance for IS-inspired attacks.

This week, local media reported the foiling of major suicide attacks in suburbs south of Beirut.
Some foreign fighters would meanwhile return to their countries across the globe, from North America to South East Asia

Al-Qaeda 2.0 

Some foreign fighters would meanwhile return to their countries across the globe, from North America to South East Asia.

Those of them who evade capture or rehabilitation might lead new terror attacks or opportunistically flock to other conflict zones to regroup, especially Sinai, Libya and Yemen, where IS is active.

According to an Independent report, senior IS leaders have been forced to accept that they will eventualy lose their caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and see terrorist attacks in the West as the way forward for 'jihad', as the British newspaper quoted Moroccan foreign fighters with IS as saying.

Western officials have already issued warnings in this direction, with fears formidable attacks seen in Paris and Belgium could only be a sample of what lies in store.

The threat of jihadist influx is not confined to the West.

Even countries as far as Malaysia and Singapore Malaysia are concerned. Last week, they led calls for southeast Asian governments to tighten anti-terror measures amid fears Iraq’s sweeping offensive to retake Mosul will trigger an influx of fleeing foreign fighters seeking safe haven in their home countries, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

The battle for Mosul may well end IS's story in Iraq in the coming year. But the world must brace itself for the group's coming deadly metamorphosis.