With the Islamic State group losing the last few blocks of territory it retains in Mosul to the advancing Iraqi forces it’s unclear how Iraq’s second city will recover from the damage caused, both physical and societal, by nearly three years under the ruthless militants – and from the damage caused by the battle for its liberation.
“Many people in Mosul want to rebuild the city and get their lives back together regardless of their ethno-sectarian background,” said Iraq researcher Joel Wing.
“For example, there have been different efforts to get Christians to return to the city,” he added.
Wing identifies the main division being over “those associated with the Islamic State [group]. Threats are being issued inside the city to kick out not only those suspected of being IS members but their families as well”.
While Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is reportedly against the move there is “nothing substantive being done about it”.
“This could lead to thousands of families either being expelled or not being allowed to return to their homes,” Wing explained. “There is no place for these people to go, although some have talked about putting them into special camps. They will basically become the lepers of society and shows the divisions the Islamic State group has caused within Iraqi society – divisions which won’t be healed anytime soon.”
Mosul’s residents are also hesitant about expressing optimism for their city’s imminent post-IS future.
Al-Naker, a 26-year-old Christian Moslawi who now lives in Erbil, the capital of the neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan region, believes that defeating IS alone will not secure Mosul’s future. He contends that “their thoughts and ideas” need to be thoroughly discredited and defeated.
“Everybody in Mosul needs to accept each other, regardless of their background. We need to treat each other simply as human beings,” he told The New Arab. “I think this is the most important battle for Mosul’s future, fighting these ideas that enabled IS to grow there.”
And the Islamists in Mosul who sympathised with IS ideology? “I know them and I know how they think,” Al-Nakar said. “I spent 24 years with them, I think some of them never change. I know what is inside their hearts and minds.
“But not all of them,” he clarified. “I am only talking about a few of them.”
Al-Nakar believes the only hope for Mosul’s future lies in such people “fixing themselves, then the situation will fix itself accordingly”.
He sees this as a “very tough task” but, nevertheless, it is the only way Mosul and its people can move forward after IS is defeated.
“I think they took a heavy lesson when IS destroyed the city, and this means they are more likely to change. Then it will be easier to properly deal with the enemies of our city,” he concluded.
Al-Nakar showed a photograph from his Facebook of his diocese in Mosul from 2013 – a community now scattered thanks to the IS takeover and the repression of Mosul’s Christian minority. The massacre of minority groups – notably the Yazidis of Nineveh province – and the systematic destruction of their homes and places of worship raises questions about whether they will ever feel secure enough to risk resettling in Mosul.
If they don’t, then IS will have succeeded, even in defeat, in permanently removing most of the city’s pre-war minorities.
Ahmed, a 26-year-old Sunni Muslim from Mosul whose family home in the city was taken over by IS militants from Europe, told The New Arab that he fears the IS takeover and infamous ethno-sectarian atrocities will permanently destroy Mosul’s multi-denominational character.
“When I think of Mosul after IS, the first question that comes to mind is: ‘Will Christians, Yazidis and Kurdish people come back?’ and if the answer is ‘no’, then how dull our city will be!
“They are our friends and neighbours,” he added. “They are our people. Mosul is for all.
“Sometimes when I try to imagine how will Mosul be if it is peaceful and stable again but I can’t find that image in my head,” Ahmed somberly concluded. “Because I have never seen it like this in my life, except some small memories from when I was a kid there… memories which I’m losing over time.”