By Adnan Hussein
15 December 2018
The government of Iraq announced December 10 a national holiday in which governmental institutions close to mark the first anniversary of defeating and expelling ISIS from the country. However, this is a bit misleading as ISIS has revived some of its activity in recent months in a number of areas from where it was expelled earlier. Statements about this activity is no longer limited to a number of journalists, security experts, political and civil activists, as even leaders of political blocs and influential parties have started issuing warnings against the dreaded terror group’s return.
Speaking at a press conference recently, leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party Masoud Barzani warned that “the ISIS threat is not over and has returned to (some) areas in a way that’s worse than before.” He said that it’s more dangerous than before, noting that the “organization strongly returned because the reasons that led to the rise of ISIS and al-Qaeda have not been resolved.”
A week before Barzani’s statement, leader of the Sadrist movement Moqtada al-Sadr issued a warning on Twitter saying: “Mosul is in danger, terrorist cells are getting active and the corruptors are spreading destruction,” and added the hashtag ‘Save Mosul’.
The liberated areas, especially Nineveh Governorate, have recently witnessed a series of attacks, bombings, murders, kidnapping and road blockages attributed to ISIS. The menace extends as far as the Saladin Governorate in the south and the Diyala Governorate in the east. Under pressure from the pleas of the residents of these areas, Iraqi parliamentary members were forced to form an investigating committee for the security breaches in Mosul which had spread to several other western governorates.
It is obvious that this ‘return’ of ISIS is not because it has become very powerful. Official Iraqi statistics actually indicate that the number of its members killed in the war to restore areas they occupied since June 2014 exceeded 20,000. This is in addition to hundreds of prisoners held by Iraqi forces. Meanwhile, the international coalition sources estimate 80,000 members of ISIS were killed in Iraq and Syria.
The secret behind ISIS’s resurging activity is linked to the Iraqi state which has not been able to bring normalcy in the liberated areas. There are still tens of thousands of families who fled cities and villages during the military operations against ISIS and have been incapable of returning and continue to live miserably in camps.
This is all due to the state’s inability to rebuild the devastated areas, despite allocation of funds for the process — most of which were provided by rich Arab and foreign countries. The inability to reconstruct these areas is due to the reluctance among government departments to initiate reconstruction operations. There have been frank accusations against government officials of having swindled reconstruction money, in collusion with contractors and the companies that were supposed to carry out reconstruction operations.
This is a general problem in Iraq as according to government sources, the number of stalled investment projects in Iraq is over 30,000. Corruption is the main stumbling block. In Mosul, the largest city invaded by ISIS in 2014, there is no sign of commencement of any government reconstruction program. In fact, all the reconstruction effort, such as the rebuilding of houses and institutions in the city has been done by the local residents, who have received modest support from local and foreign charity organizations.
Another reason that has helped ISIS revive is that some military and security forces tasked with protecting and securing the liberated areas did not perform their duties like they should in a way that helps them gain the locals’ approval and hence cooperation. The head of the previous parliamentary security and defence committee, Hakim al-Zamili, recently stated that some military units’ preoccupation with financial affairs, selling lands, accepting bribes, smuggling scrap, drugs, goods and oil have helped in the return of terrorist groups to Mosul and its outskirts. This is reminiscent of the situation in Mosul and other western areas and cities just before ISIS invaded them.
The Faltering Centre
According to local media reports, some officials of armed groups that participated in the liberation of Mosul a year ago have taken off their military suits and become businessmen. Many of them now control the oil market, real estate and auctions in the city. Influential parties are also involved in such practices and have formed “economic committees” to regulate them. This is why during his meeting with Nineveh Governorate MPs three weeks ago; Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said he will work toward dissolving these partisan “economic committees.”
Certainly, the political crisis which Baghdad has experienced recently over the issue of government formation, wherein even the ministers of defense and interior have not been appointed, has exacerbated the situation.
It has hindered the restoration of much needed security and stability for launching reconstruction projects in the devastated cities. It has also impeded the return of displaced citizens to their areas to support the military and security forces in confronting the terrorist militia that is making efforts to restore its previous status via its sleeper cells in several areas and cities and its armed groups that roam freely. Truth is, if the current situation continues as such, it will encourage ISIS to expand and escalate its operations in the future while the influential political class in Baghdad remains preoccupied with its conflicts over government posts.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.