In many former ISIS-held cities in western and northern Iraq, citizens have been celebrating the two-year anniversary of the defeat of ISIS, although many remain aware of the challenges still ahead.
Earlier this week, the Iraqi people celebrated their country’s second anniversary of liberation from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On that day in 2017, former Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced that Iraq had defeated ISIS after the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) liberated the last city of al-Qa’im, which is located in Iraq’s western Anbar Province.
The 10th December, which came to be known as “Victory Day,” has become an official holiday throughout Iraq. According to some citizens, this year’s “Victory Day”, is especially significant as this year marked the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a security operation in Syria. While ISIS is struggling to make a resurgence in Iraq through low-level sleeper cells, the death of al-Baghdadi has added to the symbolic defeat of the militant group, which threatened thousands if not millions of people only a few years ago.
Since the defeat of ISIS, citizens in Anbar, Nineveh, Salahuddin, and other liberated provinces have been trying to rebuild their homes and lives slowly. Despite the ongoing protests that have engulfed parts of Baghdad and southern Iraq, citizens in these other areas, primarily in western and northern Iraq, are determined instead to return to their normal lives that for years was taken from them. While many have expressed solidarity with their fellow Iraqis, who are riling against corruption and poor services, there is a core focus on development issues, communal cohesion, and not entangling themselves in another political crisis.
In the city of Mosul in Iraq’s Nineveh Province, many streets, bridges and neighbourhoods have been rebuilt, despite the city seeing some of the fiercest battles since WWII, according to some observers. The rebuilding of these cities has allowed many displaced citizens to return to their areas. Furthermore, the city’s rich cultural heritage is also being returned, with destroyed sites like the Hadbaa Minaret being rebuilt, and monuments of famous Moslawi individuals being erected in the city’s squares.
Yong people from Mosul have also launched initiatives to beautify the Old City of Mosul after it was heavily destroyed under ISIS’ rule. Repainting over ISIS’ dark and threatening murals, young Moslawis say that they are “trying to restore joy and smiles through colours”. Similar initiatives have been launched across other provinces as well, with young people removing the remnants of ISIS’ rule from walls and streets, while encouraging ethnic and religious groups to participate in rebuilding society.
Nonetheless, people in liberated areas continue to remember the horrors of the militant group, especially as the UN investigation on ISIS crimes continues to take place throughout the country. The investigation committee, which has been tasked to uncover and document the militant group’s crimes against humanity, has uncovered several mass graves over the past year with the help of locals and the security authorities. It has also been tasked with finding out the fate of thousands of Yazidis, who remain missing to this day.
As protests, which are transcending class and sect-based identities, continue in Baghdad and southern Iraq, liberated areas are attempting to recover from ISIS’ destruction; the progress that citizens have made over the past two years shows that Iraqis want to be rebuild their lives, while dreaming of a brighter future.