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Sectarianism, Political Violence and Human Rights Abuses Fed the Monster of Radicalisation

By Tallha Abdulrazaq

12 July 2018

One year ago, Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi declared that the Isis extremist group had been defeated in Mosul, one of Iraq’s most historically important and populated cities.

Dressed in military fatigues and surrounded by his top brass, the Iraqi leader grandiosely declared on state television that the nine-month battle that had seen some of the deadliest and most destructive urban warfare since the Second World War had finally come to an end.

“From here, from the heart of free and liberated Mosul, by the sacrifices of the Iraqis from all the governorates, we announce the awaited victory to all of Iraq, and the Iraqis,” Abadi said, as plumes of acrid black smoke and the smell of death arose from the smouldering ruins of Mosul into the skies above him.

In scenes reminiscent of footage of Stalingrad after the Nazis were defeated in 1943, Mosul, Iraq’s second city, was left a shattered and devastated population centre. The city was almost completely destroyed in the fighting between Isis and federal government forces, supported by Iran-backed Shia Islamist militants and the full might of the US-led coalition’s air forces.

The Iraqi military could call in Western airstrikes on demand, with some airstrikes called in against small Isis sniper teams perched atop apartment complexes. In one such strike, Kurdish correspondents on the ground reported that 237 civilians had been killed.

While there are no official numbers released on the civilian death toll, some estimates place the number at a horrifying 40,000 dead and buried under the ruined husk of the once great city. Whatever the number is, there is no detracting from the great and avoidable human cost of the operation to recapture Mosul.

To this day, bodies are being retrieved from under the rubble by civilian volunteers, as they are left abandoned by the authorities in Baghdad who have been too busy with election campaigns and political horse trading to be bothered about their citizens. The smell of death still lingers on the streets, as corpses decomposing and bloated in the scorching Iraqi heat continue to poison the air.

Casting our minds back to the tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks, would the American people have stayed silent if the government neglected clearing the ruins of the World Trade Centre? Would they have accepted for the bodies of the 3,000 innocents senselessly killed by al-Qaeda to be left buried under the rubble for more than a year before they could say goodbye to their loved ones at proper funerals? Of course not. Yet that is exactly what the people of Mosul are being forced to endure, as their government abandons them.

The tragedy of Mosul is reflective of the overall failure of the Iraqi political process since 2003. Savage and reprehensible though it is, Isis did not appear in a vacuum. Years of virulent sectarianism from pro-Iran political leaders, political violence and government human rights abuses fed the monster of radicalisation until it metamorphosed into the most brutal terrorist organisation the region has ever produced.

The truly sad thing is that, after all the destruction in Iraq in the war against Isis, the extremists are still a threat, conducting bombings, abductions and murders more than seven months after they were declared completely defeated in Iraq.

Mosul is still nowhere near being rebuilt, with a health crisis gripping the city. Medical charity MSF said on Monday that 70 per cent of the health system in Mosul is still dysfunctional one year after it was prised from Isis’s grasp, with nine out of 13 hospitals suffering heavy damage during the fighting.

The restoration of basic infrastructure and services will cost nigh on $1bn, let alone to fully rehouse the 380,000 still displaced and then reconstruct and redevelop Mosul which will cost billions more.

The fundamental issues that led to the rise of Isis have not been treated and therefore the symptoms of that disease remain. Mosul, a city belonging predominantly to the Sunni Arab demographic who suffered the most during the fighting against Isis, must not be allowed to be neglected any further.

Chronic neglect will lead to the people feeling resentment, festering hatred and feelings of wanting revenge against everyone who had a role to play in their misery. Such powerful negative emotions are the doorways through which radical ideologies find an entry into people’s minds.

The Iraqi government and the international community must step up and take responsibility for the eradication of radicalisation. This means development, education, the provision of healthcare and basic services, and, most importantly, to instil hope in the population for a better tomorrow away from the horrors of today. Without this, the monsters of the recent past will rear their heads once more, and next time might be even worse not only for Iraqis, but for the rest of the world too.