The three-year caliphate known as Islamic State effectively came to an end on Sunday as Mosul fell to Iraq and the allies. Islamic State will never be the same again. Neither will Mosul and the Iraqi people.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi went to Mosul to congratulate his army, but initially — and wisely — withheld a formal declaration of victory. It is still premature to do so. But later on Monday, Abadi decided that the battle which has taken almost nine months has essentially been won, and officially declared victory.
Even then, a small pocket of IS resistance remained. Nor was the horror over for the approximately 2,000 civilians said to be caught in the last IS holdout. Heavy fighting was reportedly still going on.
The statistics of the battle for Mosul are still being compiled — for the armies, for the aid agencies, for the history books, for the most precise record of the latest addition to the annals of inhumanity.
There is hardly a single structure in Iraq’s second-largest city that was not demolished, damaged or scarred by the fighting, not a single human being who wasn’t wounded or traumatized.
The U.N. estimates it will cost at least $1 billion to restore the city’s basic infrastructure to provide clean water and electricity. Billions more will be needed to rebuild Mosul.
As for the people, evidently, it is easier to count the living than the dead. The U.N. says that of the 920,000 people made homeless since October, close to 700,000 are still displaced.
But the cost in human life is incalculable. Media reports speak of thousands killed; nobody is even venturing a specific number at this point. The corpses, who fill the battleground-streets, are still to be removed and counted.
Nevertheless, congratulations were sent by France and Britain for the hard-fought victory. “Mosul liberated from ISIS: France pays homage to all those, who alongside our troops, contributed to this victory,”& French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
It was in Mosul that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself caliph in 2014. Now, the fate of the “caliph” is unknown. He fled the city, but reports of his death have not been confirmed.
But even if the so-called capital of Islamic State has been broken and Baghdadi is eliminated, no one thinks this is the end of fighting. The reign of fanaticism and cruelty that calls itself Islamic State is still with us.
They are expected to retreat to the desert or mountains of Iraq to carry on an insurgency, as al-Qaida did following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. And several cities and towns south and west of Mosul are still held by Islamic State.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) entered the Syrian city of Raqqa on Monday following heavy bombing. There, too, fighting continues.
We are hopeful that the Western allies do not expect any quick mopping-up operation, that they do not underestimate the enemy, as they have done in the past. The countries are always much bigger than anybody imagined (Afghanistan is geographically bigger than Texas); the terrain is always impenetrable by modern vehicles (the CIA had to bring horses into the mountains of Afghanistan); the local allies always corrupt and unreliable; cutting-edge technology always overrated; and the jihadists ready to fight to the last man.
In recent years, we have learned the bitter lesson that it will take a very long time to clear this scourge from the face of the earth — not only in Syria and Iraq, but also in Afghanistan and in northern Sinai, and to secure the streets of London, Paris, Brussels and New York. It will take years and many more casualties.
The forces of Islamic terrorism do not require the formal structures or the borders of a state. Even a chain of command is unnecessary when “lone wolf” terrorists are ready to heed the call to jihad over the internet.
One should not belittle what was achieved in Mosul. It was certainly a victory and the victors deserve to be congratulated. But it was only one battle in a war that is far from over.
Prime Minister Abadi’s message to the surviving Islamic State fighters in Mosul on Monday should be addressed to all their comrades and all the other jihadists around the world.
“One or two pockets are still controlled by IS terrorists who have no more than two options: to surrender or to be killed,” he said.
That kind of grim determination is necessary not only for Mosul but for Raqqa and all the other redoubts of evil. If the message is driven home hard enough, it may suffice.
As Churchill said: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
We can only hope and pray.