recently there seems to be movement on the international front. a coalition, joined by the us trustees in the gulf started bombing isis-stations in syria. following academic writings and speculations, the attack in syria would be the vital punch against the islamic state. however, what people perceive as a punch, i identify as a pinch. while being a vital part of the strategy to bomb isis strongholds in syria, syria is not the heart and symbol of the war against the islamic state.the goal is mosul.
mosul was the city that fell to a terrorist organization over night. it was mosul that made the international press jump onto a group that has been working within syria for years before that and that had taken the big province of anbar in iraq before mosul without anybody noticing.
mosul is a large city, the second biggest in iraq. taking over a city like this, branded the islamic state as a stronger and more dangerous terrorist organizations that many before them. the silent surrender of the iraqi armed forces, the dropping of weapons and fleeing or the joining the other side, made the take over a unique spectacle for the press to feed on. and that is not yet to speak of the masses of people that left mosul on that very day, fleeing for the borders of the kurdish region. half a million displaced people in one day. the world has never seen such a mass exodus before.
it is hence mosul that is more than a city and a strategic point, it is the symbol for the islamic state overwhelming the western powers. looking at it from this perspective, it is then the taking back of mosul that seems to be the most vital step for any international mission.
however, there is facts people tend to forget: 1) a friend of mine, a journalist, spent three days interviewing people crossing the border into the kurdish region the day after mosul happened – she reported that she only found one woman saying that she was fleeing from the islamic state. most others were quite content with isis but were fleeing because of expected retaliation to come. 2) how should the second biggest city of iraq be taken by a terrorist organization over night and without a single shot fired if it did not have the ground support from the people? and 3) looking at the method of the islamic state, their killing and brutality turns out to be both pr for others to join them, but also for towns to surrender without a fight – a strategy used by the mongols in the 12th century already. once they have taken the support from the people, they keep local rulers in power and march on. more than leaving the actual town structure mostly intact, the sunni towns are at the same time freed from any control and suppression from the shia dominated federal government of iraq – a position that is more than welcome in the sunni provinces.
to put it in a nutshell, the simple truth that people keep forgetting is: the islamic state, or isis, is not seen as the worst evil running around their neighborhood by the sunni arab population in iraq. in fact, it is a quite welcomed change from the prior suppression of shia dominance and while it comes around with a few negative aspects – i hear people are not happy about the smoking ban – the majority of people joined the islamic state willingly.
these ground facts have to be taken into consideration by any us- or international- intervention in iraq in order not to repeat the same mistake of george w. bush again, assuming that people would greet him with open arms to accept the seeds of democracy he was spreading. the sunni arab majority in the area, and particularly in mosul, will not accept a going back to status-quo-ante before the islamic state, when they were subject to the shia control of baghdad. in order to take back mosul, boots have to be on the ground. but these boots will knowingly be sent into the lion’s den, where every woman, child and man is potentially resenting them for their presence.
it will take a long process of giving political liberties to the sunnis in baghdad and a respecting of whichever islamic laws and traditions the iraqi population wishes to maintain even if these might be considered as “unfree” and “not modern” by the occupiers, in order to actually “win back” mosul.