After an offensive lasting nearly nine months, the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, walked through the streets of Mosul on July 9 after Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition airstrikes “liberated” the city from so-called Islamic State (IS). Abadi was there to congratulate security forces for the victory.
Iraqis have been waiting for this moment for three years, since IS captured the country’s second city and other key areas in 2014.
Since the announcement of the recapture of Mosul’s iconic al-Nuri mosque, destroyed by IS in late June, social media has been buzzing with Arabic hashatags such as #thestateofmythhasfallen, #Mosulisbeingliberated, and #tweetforpeace.
The general reaction in Iraq and on social media to the recapture of Mosul has been one of joy and celebration, yet for many, the feelings are mixed. Although it is a huge blow for IS, the victory does not mean that IS has been defeated across Iraq. Battles are still awaiting in Tel Afar in the north-west, to Hawija and other areas in Anbar Province in western Iraq. And even when these are retaken, IS will continue its regional and global insurgency.
IS’s territorial caliphate is falling, but its ideology – which argues that its members follow the “true Islam”, fighting heretics and unbelievers – is not.
For Iraqis, smiles are mixed with tears, and optimism mixed with fears. Many thousands of lives have been lost and too much blood shed in the battle against IS. Many more thousands have been displaced and the destruction has been widespread. Iraqis rightfully ask whether all of this could have been avoided and whether those responsible will ever be held accountable. They are aware of the massive challenges ahead, politically, economically, and socially. These include the conflicting interests of the forces fighting on the ground, as well as those of countries such as Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US, whose interventions are often seen as destabilising to the Iraqi state.