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Mosul is ‘liberated’, but the fight against Islamic State and its ideology continues

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi walks through a market in Mosul on July 9. Iraqi prime minister office handout/EPA

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 hashatags such as #سقطتدولة الخرافة (the state of myth has fallen), #الموصل_تتحرر (Mosul is being liberated), and #غرد_للسلام (tweet for peace).

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.

Celebrations took place in Baghdad after Iraq declared victory over IS in Mosul. Ali Abbas/EPA

Confronting Daeshism

Daeshism (Daeshia or Daeshna in Arabic) is derived from Daesh – the Arabic acronym for IS – but Iraqis use it to refer to a general act of subjugating outsiders. It is the attempted suppression of beliefs, ideas, behaviour, and appearances on religious grounds – and it is not just IS doing this in Iraq.

Like IS, Daeshim uses an internal narrative of “us versus them”, going beyond sectarian differences to threaten individual liberties viewed as unacceptable by some religious leaders. The recent kidnap, torture, and murder of young artist Karar Nushi by unknown armed groups in Baghdad, merely because of his appearance, is just the latest in a series of heinous crimes that are an unprecedented threat to civil liberties in Iraq.

These wider repressions are nurtured by radical religious arguments, whether Shia or Sunni, which target art, music, singing, and dance, as haram – things that must be banned. Leaders of Islamic parties are deliberately distorting concepts such as secularism and civil society, tarnishing them as atheism that must be tackled. For example, a radical religious stance has made its way to educational institutions, both in theory and in practice, and to some Iraqi school textbooks.

Daeshism reflects the mindset of sections of Iraqi society and of Arabic Islamic societies in general. Although they may denounce IS’s practices as acts of terrorism, they still oppose and oppress people or actions that do not fit their religious rules. The dilemma for Islamic societies lies in this contradiction. As the Iraqi analyst, Nibras Kazimi, summarises: “Middle Easterners need to fundamentally re-engineer their societies, economies and cultures.” Small steps have been taken on this path by some intellectuals, activists, and religious reformists, but these remain scarce and unconnected.

Militias and corruption

Militias and tribes have been empowered across the country after a security vacuum was created following the IS’s capture of Mosul in June 2014. In many areas of Baghdad and the south of Iraq, in particular, their power and influence exceed the already-vulnerable authority of the state. Gang crimes, including kidnappings, theft, murder, and rape, have been on the rise in the capital and southern provinces. In most cases, the perpetrators are unknown and unaccountable.

Corruption is often equated by Iraqis with IS, and corrupt leaders with terrorism. In a new survey published in June by the National Democratic Institute across Iraq, participants said they viewed corruption as the main underlying cause that gave rise to IS. Corruption has weakened Iraq’s governance and security, and eaten away at its institutions. If it is not substantially addressed, IS, the threats of militias and tribes, and wider Daeshism will linger.

The solution starts with the Iraqi society, not its governments. Iraqis cannot wait for top-down salvation. They need to undertake a collective effort to combat corruption, with 2018 parliamentary elections as an opportunity towards this goal. The liberation of Iraqi lands from IS, with the sacrifices that it has required, must not be squandered.

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