Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus fears failure to stabilize Iraq after retaking Mosul could lead to Islamic State 3.0.
The U.S. Anti-ISIS coalition is helping the Iraqi Security Forces plan a military offensive against the city of Mosul, which ISIS seized in 2014. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq, and retaking it will deprive ISIS of the last major city it holds in Iraq.
Petraeus warns in a Saturday op-ed for The Washington Post that, “The challenge of Mosul and Nineveh is the considerable number of ethnic groups, religious sects, tribes and other elements that make up the province.” Rebuilding Mosul is likely to cost billions of dollars. How that money is spent will constitute a major political challenge to Iraq’s government. Iraq is already in the midst of a political crisis, with sectarian tensions at an all time high.
Petraeus recalls his own command of the city of Mosul in the wake of the U.S. invasion in 2003. Under Petraeus’s command, Mosul underwent a period of political reconciliation and had lower casualty rates than other ethnically diverse cities in Iraq. Petraeus credited his achievement with the “legal authority needed and the forces necessary to back up that authority, if required,” elaborating, “I was not reluctant to exercise either.”
The challenge he highlights is the lack of political confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s ability to reconcile all of Mosul’s ethnic minorities. Abadi’s government is backed by the U.S., and Washington, D.C., has done little to signal confidence in Baghdad to govern effectively in the future. Failure to reconcile sectarian grievances could bring Iraq back to the conditions that lead to ISIS’s rise. When Iraq’s Sunni minorities felt marginalized by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, they saw “few reasons to support the new Iraq; indeed, they perceived many to actively or tacitly oppose it,” Petraeus writes.
Ultimately, Petraeus warns the biggest challenge in Iraq is not the defeat of ISIS, but is “to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people.” He continues, “All of this will have to be pursued largely by Iraqis, of different allegiances, without the kinds of forces, resources and authorities that we had.”
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