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Why Mosul is more than just a military battle

As the history of previous offensives in Iraq has demonstrated, defeat of ISIS will depend mostly on non-military factors, writes Turki Aldakhil

Turki Aldakhil

Published: Updated:

The city of Mosul has had a history of trade and co-existence. Since the old Islamic era, it has been known as one of the most important music centers in the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. Abu Isaac of Mosul and Ziryab grew up here.

It is likely that the Arab Muwashshah – among the most ancient poetic and musical genre – emerged from here and were influenced by the music of the Syrian church. The city has always been known for its tolerance and coexistence.

Mosul is also known for its singers who mastered maqams – the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music – particularly in the beginning of the 20th century. Mullah Othman al-Mosuli, Ahmed Abdelqader al-Mosuli and Hanna Boutros were some of its best exponents.

Brothers Jamil and Mounir Bachir have been famous musicians who mastered the oud and maqams. Mosul hosted people of different faiths, from Christianity to Muslims and Yazidis. It contains a legacy of humanity and co-existence.

All this rich history, however, did not safeguard Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which entered the city amid the delinquency of the Iraqi government on June 6, 2014 following a brutal battle.

Iraqi soldiers admitted that their leaders ran away and said they were not trained to thwart such attacks. The residents of Mosul were forcefully displaced and ISIS acquired a new and different demography. ISIS imposed a strict system based on eliminating anyone who opposed it.

All this played out in full view of the entire world. The first party to benefit from ISIS’s entry into Mosul was Iraq’s sectarian regime, headed at the time by Nouri al-Maliki. When US President Barack Obama announced the battle to liberate Mosul, The Washington Post wrote that with tens of thousands of Iraqi army and militia forces deployed, backed by US airpower and artillery, the military outcome can hardly be in doubt.

It is important that the entire world gets together to defeat ISIS. The battle for Mosul may weaken the extremist organization, especially if it manages to overcome the sectarian divide or halt the demographic change in the city

Turki Aldakhil

Non-military factors

As the history of previous offensives in Iraq has painfully demonstrated, an enduring defeat of ISIS will depend mostly on non-military factors, including the physical and humanitarian costs it imposes and whether it is followed by workable political arrangements.

Even those who oppose each other are fighting together to liberate Mosul. Turkey and Iran and Peshmerga, aided by the US, are fighting in this war to crush ISIS. However, each party has its own aims. Turkey is participating in the campaign regardless of the Iraqi position. Ankara calls its intervention legitimate as a member of the international coalition against ISIS.

Turkey thinks this gives it the right to intervene in the battle for Mosul. It also bases its decision on UN Security Council Resolution 2249, issued in 2015. This is in addition to the 1926 Ankara Treaty and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Turkey believes these agreements give the country the right to strongly intervene.

All this is happening when Iraqi regime is being sharply criticized. However, Turkey views this intervention as a matter of national security in which Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi does not have the right to maneuver around.

It is important that the entire world gets together to defeat ISIS. The battle for Mosul may weaken the extremist organization, especially if it manages to overcome the sectarian divide or halt the demographic change in the city.

Restoring the demographics

Mosul has witnessed demographic changes if one looks at the displacement of Sunnis in particular. We must look back at former PM Nouri al-Maliki’s decisions that facilitated ISIS entry into Mosul. This is not pure sentimental talk.

Amnesty International says the Sunnis in Mosul face revenge attacks by sectarian militias. Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said: “Sunni Arabs in Iraq are facing brutal revenge attacks at the hands of militias and government forces, and are being punished for crimes committed by the group.”

Maliki clearly said that Shiite militias will not only fight in Mosul and Aleppo but will also reach Yemen. There appears to be an intention to export Mosul’s crisis to the region and bring this tense situation to countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The battle for Mosul is necessary to deter ISIS. Countries which are opposed to one another are participating in this battle as they believe the real triumph will be a victory in Mosul and not of a sectarian or ethnic faction. At the same time, we must also fight against any move to alter the demographics of the city no matter what the dominant religion or sect may be.

This battle is likely to prolong but will it achieve its objectives? It appears to be a difficult battle and may take longer than estimated. Mosul may be liberated but it will neither be the Mosul we have read about nor the Mosul we know.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 25, 2016.
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Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.