The Aftermath of ISIS in Mosul
By MARGARET AVERA | April 6, 2018
It was no easy task to rid the Iraqi city of Mosul of ISIS forces. The civilian casualties in Mosul during the anti-ISIS campaign were particularly high with approximately 5000 civilian deaths between October 2016 and July 2017. The city retained significant damage as well, and the rebuilding process has been slow since. Eight months after the fight has ended, the nation is still deficient of running water and electricity.
The nation’s attitudes towards the Iraqi government and fighters, who liberated the city, have also grown stale. Residents feel that the government is not doing enough to rebuild the city. Rather than state military personnel, there are Southern Iraq paramilitary fighters manning city checkpoints. Some residents claim that these paramilitary forces loot homes and rubble, looking for items to sell.
Stability and normalcy need to be instilled quickly, especially with the potential consequence of a more radicalized population. The lack of government oversight gives paramilitary groups the opportunity to loot without any domestic police or state forces to instill order. It is also possible that the lack of social services will provide opportunities to terror groups or other non-state militias. For example, many of the Taliban fighters were recruited through offers of education, food, and clothing from poor neighborhoods and refugee camps. These tactics are particularly successful in post-conflict and active conflict zones, where large numbers of youth live in poverty.
Social services are a common and extremely successful way for terror groups to recruit and create bonds within their local communities, according to Eli Berman in “Radical, Religious, and Violent: the New Economics of Terrorism.” If these groups provide wages, drinking water, access to healthcare, and other services, the local civilians are more likely to cooperate with them or at least tolerate their presence. Providing social services can enable the popularity of terror groups among civilians, who are then more willing to hide fighters, avoid cooperation with state authorities, and send money or recruits. Not only does leaving Mosul as rubble give ISIS a foothold to leverage with civilians, but it also creates resentment against the government that ISIS or other radical groups can exploit.
Post-ISIS Mosul faces another challenge as well. Like the Taliban before them, ISIS recruited and trained many children. Children were provided with religious and military education. One interviewee told Vice News that ISIS would go to impoverished neighborhoods searching for young boys, and would bribe them to join by promising cars, money, clothes, and weapons. These children are now in a state of limbo, often held in detention centers for fear of their potential dangers to the public. Many free children do not wish to return home because they fear that their families or neighbors will seek retribution for ISIS’ crimes.
Forced recruitment and bribery are not uncommon for militias either. Fighters compelled to join the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone report similar fears and difficulties reintegrating with their community. As stated in Humphreys’ and Weinstein’s “What the Fighters Say,” many RUF members said that they were blamed for atrocities upon returning home, even if they had been abducted into service. One former member noted that “people cast all sorts of blame on [him] for being an ex-RUF” and destroying lives and property. They have made his life unhappy. Humphreys and Weinstein further note that abductees are frequently forced to commit violence against their own communities. Associations with a militia group that committed atrocities has made a lasting social impression on communities and social groups.
If ex-ISIS fighters are unable to return home and be accepted by their communities, it is possible that they will rejoin ISIS or similar groups. ISIS and similar groups will offer social acceptance and provide social services that the original communities of fighters may not. It is important that fighters return to feel that reintegration is possible, otherwise they will continue to remain on the edges of society, marginalized and resentful.
It is apparent that much work needs to be done in Mosul. The Iraqi government needs to make physical and social rebuilding a high priority. Civilians and child soldiers alike need to be provided for, because if the assistance doesn’t come from the government it could alternatively come from a radical and violent group. However, as the threat of ISIS still looms, it is understandable that reintegration is not the highest priority. If governments and external forces are serious about keeping ISIS out, it is going to take more effort than the drone strikes that drove the group from the city. Guns will not fix communities. Now these civilians and former ISIS child-recruits require compassion and basic social services to find a lasting peace.