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This June will mark two years since the Islamic State group took over Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and forced many of its residents, including members of its significant Christian population, to flee.
Lately, there’s been more and more talk of an operation to retake Mosul, and the military campaign will likely include members of Iraqi Christian militias.
The Chaldean Bishops of Iraq, meeting in Ankawa, a largely Christian suburb of Erbil in northern Iraq, expressed their hope Tuesday that the liberation of Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plain will be achieved soon.
According to the Fides news agency, the bishops urged Christians in “not to be persuaded by those who promote their escape from Iraq, and [issued] a clear statement of support to all national military groups engaged in the fight against the jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate.”
Writing at the website of The Washington Institute, Michael Knights, the institute’s Lafer Fellow, said that retaking Mosul is vital to the overall objective of defeating the Islamic State. Mosul is a “major source of funding and manpower for the terrorist group,” he wrote. “Positioned just 60 miles west of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, it is a major source of terrorist threats to the Kurds as well.”
Knights predicts that Christian militias having Kurdish support will join in the battle for Mosul. “These forces, backed by multiple Peshmerga brigades and artillery, will tie down important elements of the Islamic State, making the Iraqi army’s job easier in predominantly Arab west Mosul,” he wrote.
The challenges, of course, are not insignificant, Knights points out. After two years of ISIS occupation, it’s hard to know how the local population has changed. “If the population stands shoulder to shoulder with the Islamic State, then the government will simply not be able to recapture Mosul.”
Winning the battle is one thing. Winning the peace is another, and Knights discusses options for resolving intra-communal vendettas and “abuses that pro-IS locals have heaped upon their fellow Moslawis.”
One option being discussed to minimize revenge killings is quick-fire justice, with local courts rapidly convening to convict known Islamic State affiliates during the short honeymoon period in which Moslawis will look to the state, rather than the gun, for justice.
Some local leaders, notably Atheel al-Nujaifi, believe that the city will need more than justice and security to recover. They posit the need for a fundamental change to Iraq’s political order: the creation of a Sunni regional government, akin to the Kurdistan Regional Government next door, bolstered by Turkish-backed trade deals. Others, like Kurdish Moslawi politician Khasro Goran, favor splitting Nineveh into three provinces: Mosul for the Arabs, the Nineveh Plains for the Christians and Sinjar for the Yezidis.