Skip to main content

After Mosul: Rethinking Iraq

ISIS has occupied Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, since the early days of June 2014. The victory in Mosul was both symbolically and materially very significant for ISIS. The group not only obtained large caches of military equipment from a defeated Iraqi army, but occupying such a large city made it a visible contender for power in the region. Now the Iraqi army, with the help of the United States and others including the Kurdish peshmerga, is getting ready to recapture the city. This panel explored the impact of ISIS’s occupation of the city on its inhabitants, what the recapture of the city will mean for Iraq, and the city’s future relations with the rest of Iraq.

Date & Time

Sep. 26, 2016
11:00am – 12:30pm


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Get Directions

After Mosul: Rethinking Iraq

Four experts offered analysis on the possibilities for and challenges to stability in an ISIS-liberated Mosul, Iraq.

On September 26, 2016 the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted the event “After Mosul: Rethinking Iraq,” with Amatzia Baram, Professor emeritus for Middle East history and Director of the Center for Iraq Studies at the University of Haifa, and former Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center; Abbas Kadhim, Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS-Johns Hopkins University, and President of the Institute of Shia Studies; Wladimir van Wilgenburg, Middle East Analyst at the Jamestown Foundation; and Judith Yaphe, Adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University. Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.

Van Wilgenburg began by discussing the various actors involved in the fight for Mosul—including the Kurdish peshmerga, the Sunni Hashd-al-Watani militia, the Turkish army, the Shi’a popular mobilization units, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the PKK—which complicate the potential for coordination. He noted that ISIS became such a problem in Mosul because Baghdad did not allow Sunni Arabs any autonomy. He concluded by identifying five necessary features of a successful post-liberated Mosul: a post-ISIS political agreement, decentralization of the Iraqi government, a new security arrangement, for Shi’a forces to remain outside of Mosul, and a plan for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Next, Baram identified the three phases of a liberated Mosul. In the first phase, which is occurring right now, there must be greater tribal mobilization against ISIS. In order to convince tribes to formally reject ISIS, there must be trust-building measures between the Sunni Arabs and the government. The second phase Baram discussed was reconstruction, in which he envisions General al-Jubouri to be the reconstruction czar, leading the institution of police, courts, and social services. The last phase of Iraq’s decentralization will occur for three to five years. During this period, a law of provincial powers, which already was enacted in 2008, must be activated in order to give the governors of the provinces more control over governorate issues.  

Kadhim addressed two categories of challenges that he predicts will follow the liberation of Mosul: those due to the clashing interests in Mosul and those under the three “R’s”: reclaiming, reconstruction, and reconciliation. He discussed the competing interests of Baghdad, the KRG, Mosul politicians, and the Iraqi population. He indicated that there must be institutional, political, and societal reconstruction in order to reintegrate the Mosul population into Iraq. He also identified the need for these institutions to undo the psychological damage that ISIS inflicted on Iraqi civilians.

To conclude the panelist addresses, Yaphe first acknowledged Mosul’s historic, symbolic, and nationalist significance to both Kurds and Arabs. She also warned against ISIS’s disappearance into local villages upon its defeat, and the dangers this poses because it will try to rebuild during this period of exile. In order to combat this, the various factions of Iraqi Shi’a parties must be strengthened before Mosul’s liberation to ensure stability. She also said that many of the militia groups will evolve into political parties, because they are organized and have a loyal base of support.

In the question and answer portion of the event, the panel elaborated on the lack of large Arab tribal participation in the fight against ISIS. They discussed ISIS’s strategy of using civilians as human shields, and that the battle for Mosul will differ from the recapturing of smaller villages, because most of the fighting will not consist of the two sides moving in and out of civilian houses, looking for refuge. This said, they noted that ISIS is deft in using IED warfare and snipers, similar to Hamas. Barkey asked the panelists if Iraqi forces should have recaptured Raqqa first before attempting Mosul. To address Barkey’s question, the panel answered Mosul is a crucial component of ISIS’s identity, therefore recapturing the city will be an essential catalyst to ISIS’s decline.

By Vanessa Sorrentino, Middle East Program

Hosted By

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

Event Feedback