“Mosul also resides in Iraq’s Nineveh province which, at the time of ISIS gains, represented one of the country’s hubs for oil and political activity.”
With military victory over ISIS accomplished in Mosul, the group loses out not just on a battlefront stronghold but also on the opportunity for other gains in its march to regional and world domination. Mosul was to be a caliphate catalyst for ISIS. And while victory against the extremist group is a boon for Iraqis, it has come at the heavy price of what ISIS leaves behind.
The Mosul defeat signifies an important blow to the group’s growth strategy. As the second largest city in Iraq at the time of its fall in 2014, Mosul presented an opportunity for ISIS leadership to show its loyalists that it had the ability to gain and maintain control of a prominent city in the region. One that was overtaken as the result of victory against a largely Shia population, which is not insignificant in the larger Muslim sectarian civil war.
Mosul also resides in Iraq’s Nineveh province which, at the time of ISIS gains, represented one of the country’s hubs for oil and political activity. With a population of nearly two million at the time, and growth forecasted as a result of its proximity to those government and enterprise generators, Mosul was also one of the most diverse areas in all of Iraq.
Home to large swaths of ethnic Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, Turkmens, and many other religious minorities, including Christians, Mosul reflected a microcosm of the Middle East region ISIS is hell bent on controlling. With Mosul in its grasp, ISIS would ultimately rule a territory in Iraq that in terms of its size is larger than the United Kingdom.
The formal march to overtake the city began some four years before it wielded full control of it. It was during Ramadan 2010 when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered a public sermon at one of the more recognized mosques in town. The architect of the Islamic State would use this single most public appearance he’s made in his role to identify Mosul as a crown jewel in the group’s march toward a caliphate. To follow would be a migration of jihadists, to include several that we now know originated from western lands, and al-Baghdadi seeking concealment to plan and strategize further.
As any world domination requires real estate, Mosul also reflected the group’s largest land grab, with the intention of it being the first domino to fall. The land itself would be a valuable asset with its proximity not only to oil, which ISIS would control for the duration of its reign, but also as a transport and resource hub that served other parts of the country.
Plotting a geographic area east of and lying along the Tigris River, a long duration in Mosul would have meant ISIS would control a key choke point for water flowing south and sourcing modern Iraq. As most of Iraq sits downstream, the health of a river like the Tigris is vital to the desert nation’s sustenance. Today, it flows slowly bogged down by pollution, debris, and dead bodies.
It’s not just the present that ISIS rule in Mosul threatened, but also the future. As home to what was once one of the region’s most respected academic and research centers, Mosul University may have been the biggest threat to the ISIS belief system as it prepared future generations of scientists, business leaders, and scholars.
A large reason as to why the melting pot of ethnicities called the city home, the institution offered a vast catalog of courses and, as a university should, encouraged the free flow of ideas and welcomed students of different faiths and heritages. As part of its bombing campaign to bring the city to ruins, the university’s library that previously owned one of the Middle East’s largest and most diverse collection of books, found itself directly on the X. Leading to the sad reality that military victory is also the start of a long and arduous rebuild.
While the people of Iraq begin the process of returning to the path toward prosperity for Mosul, ISIS will also be charged with hitting the reset button. Mosul was to be its own shining beacon on a hill, or desert that is, and now with its core scattered and focused on avoiding similar fates in places like Raqqa, the world’s leading terrorist organization must find a new stronghold.
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