The wresting of the northern city of Mosul by the Iraqis in the nine-month battle for control of the Islamic State group’s former stronghold is a shot in the arm for anti-IS forces. Thousands of lives have been lost in the fighting, and the UN estimates rebuilding basic infrastructure will cost more than $US 1 billion. The dreaded IS has been suffering setbacks in recent times and considering that Mosul was at one time a symbol of IS power and the seat of the Caliphate, it is a feather in the cap of the Iraqi forces.
The IS struck back with suicide bombings as Iraqi forces were on the cusp of full victory in Mosul but could not prevent the Iraqi victory. The attacks underscored the intense violence plaguing the battered country in the battle for Iraq’s second-largest city. IS overran Mosul in a matter of days more than three years ago. The US-backed offensive to retake the city was launched last October.
Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake the Old City in mid-June and after a dawn push last Thursday, they retook the area around the al-Nuri Mosque, which the militants had blown up just a few days earlier. The 12th century mosque is hugely symbolic — it was from a pulpit of this mosque that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had proclaimed the IS caliphate in July 2014. Recent reports have said that Baghdadi has been killed in airstrikes but Pentagon has not confirmed the reports.
If true, this would be a big blow to the jihadi group which has been a law unto itself. At the height of its power two years ago, Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The loss of Mosul and the siege of Raqqa, IS’ capital in Syria, by a US-backed Kurdish-led force had made Baghdadi’s survival difficult. The setbacks for IS, however, do not mean that the world can afford to lower its guard. Utmost vigil will still be required to combat the IS menace.