Exactly five years after ISIS captured Mosul in one of Iraq's darkest moments, the city owes its freedom in large part to the youth of the city who took up arms to end the group's reign of tyranny.
As the fifth anniversary of the fall of Mosul is upon us, it is essential to remember the defining points of the conflict that resulted in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq.
On the 10th of June, 2014, Iraqis woke up to the news that Mosul, the second largest city in the country fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant group that inherited the legacy of Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi’s Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). By the 12th of June, the militant group released a video showing the mass execution of over 1,700 cadets at the Speicher Base in Tikrit. The militant group announced that it would continue its onslaught towards the capital, Baghdad, the Kurdistan Region’s capital, Erbil, and the country’s southern provinces. With the retreat of the Iraqi military from many bases and checkpoints along the way, panic started to spread around the country, as ISIS continued to take cities and villages across three Iraqi provinces: Nineveh, Anbar and Salahuddin. Thousands of civilians began to leave their areas throughout Iraq, fearing ISIS’ incoming violence, which was seen in their video releases. Within days of the invasion of Mosul, the militant group began releasing videos showing how they are executing critics and groups that they deemed to be unbelievers.
Furthermore, ISIS released videos of the destruction of historical artefacts in the city of Mosul, in an attempt to force residents to forget their rich history and culture, and forcefully embrace their strict understanding of Islam. The militant group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took to the pulpit in Mosul’s Nuri Mosque, and announced that they would be establishing a caliphate in the region, declaring himself as the “caliph” of Muslims. His announcement also encouraged Muslims believing in his call to make “hijra” to Iraq and Syria so that they join the jihad against those they deemed unbelievers.
As more news and reports began emerging regarding ISIS’ continued onslaught, and the collapse of the Iraqi army due to corruption within the military institution, thousands of young Iraqis volunteered to join the fight against ISIS and support the security apparatuses in the country, as part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU). Within days, the Iraqi Army, Federal Police, Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS) supported by the PMU launched a counter-attack on areas of the Baghdad Belt and were able to fend off the capital from ISIS’ invasion.
Following this, the security forces launched a major operation on the city of Jurf al-Sakher, which lies on the outskirts of the city of Karbala and defeated ISIS. It was the first to be liberated from ISIS’ control. Supporting the security forces were the, a mass mobilization of thousands of Iraqi volunteers who heeded the call to defend their country. As operations continued throughout 2014, 2015, and 2016, the militant group gradually lost the majority of the areas that they once controlled across the country. By October 2016, the Iraqi Forces supported by the Kurdish Peshmerga and the International Coalition launched the “Qadimoun Ya Naynawa” (We Are Coming Oh Nineveh) operations, which sought to liberate the city of Mosul and the remaining towns and villages within Nineveh Province. While the battle was slow due to ISIS’ use of human shields, VBIEDs, booby-traps and the extreme levels of street-fighting that happened within the city’s neighbourhoods, the advancing forces were able to weed out ISIS’ militants and liberate the city of Mosul.
On the 20th of July, 2017, former Iraqi Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, declared that the battle against ISIS in Mosul was over and that the ISF supported by its allies were able to clear the city of ISIS control. While the city was left devastated due to the prolonged conflict, and the use of heavy artillery and explosives, the Iraqi Government announced that everything destroyed by the militant group would be rebuilt.
Following ISIS’ defeat in Mosul, which at one point was seen as a lost cause, Iraq regained its status in the region as the defeater of ISIS. Since the militant group continued to hold several villages and cities throughout the country, the ISF announced that the next phase of their operations would launch soon.
By late September, the operations to liberate the city of Hawija in the country’s eastern region were underway, taking the forces two weeks and four days to complete. With the defeat of ISIS in Hawija, the militant group’s control had shrunk significantly leaving them with the towns of al-Qaim and Rawa in western Anbar Province.
On December 10th 2017, Haidar al-Abadi announced that his country’s security forces, aided by the International Coalition, had successfully defeated ISIS throughout the whole country. “Victory Day” as it came to be known was given as an official holiday in the country.
With ISIS’ black flag being taken down, and the Iraqi flag raised, both Iraqis and others celebrated the defeat of the militant group in Iraq.
With ISIS now defeated in the country, the Iraqi Government aided by international organisations began a new era; the era of reconstruction. The damage that was left on many cities and towns in Iraq by ISIS’ control deemed many areas inhabitable. As a result, many projects and initiatives were launched throughout the country to rehabilitate infrastructure, homes, hospitals, and other service buildings, to bring a sense of normalcy back into the country while also encouraging displaced civilians to return. While many cities in Iraq are estimated to take decades to rebuild, Iraqis have been able to come together to show that the defeat of terrorism is only the first step in the return of unity and peace to the region.
While the wounds of war require much effort to heal with thousands of citizens psychologically and physically affected by the battles and many citizens’ displacement, Iraqis have shown the world that through sacrifice and unity, the citizens of Iraq will remain steadfast in the face of terrorism.