Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, has declared at a conference in Baghdad on Saturday that the war against the Islamic State is over. After more than three years of conflict, the Islamic State no longer controls any territory within Iraq, and the residual Islamic State-controlled pockets along the Iraqi-Syrian border are now under the complete control of Iraqi forces.
Mr Abadi stated at the conference that “[the Islamic State] wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination.” The announcement has been well-received by countries around the world, and spokespeople from various national governments have expressed their congratulations. However, many have been quick to add a post-script to their otherwise cheery messages: British Prime Minister, Theresa May warned that the Islamic State is “not yet defeated” while a spokesperson from the U.S. State Department stressed that “Iraq’s liberation does not mean the fight against terrorism … in Iraq is over.”
These cautious warnings likely refer to the persistent ideological influence of the Islamic State that has not yet been quashed, and the continuing threat of guerrilla-style warfare in the region from Islamic State diehards. It is also vital that involved governments remain mindful of the factors that transformed the Iraq/Syria region into a fertile Petri dish for terrorism in the first place; although the latest symptom has been crushed, the disease is yet to be eradicated. Furthermore, Iraq – which is demonstrably susceptible to Islamic extremism – will continue to be affected by Islamic State affiliates from around the world, who will continue to propagate the foul perversion of Islam that fueled the atrocious practices of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
That being said, Iraq’s victory over the Islamic State is undeniably significant. It comes just three days after a Russian military spokesperson announced that Syria is “completely liberated from fighters of [the Islamic State].” The almost simultaneous declarations of conquest will inject hope into a region that for years has been brutally hammered by one of the most extreme manifestations of hate and ignorance the world has ever seen. At the height of their power, the Islamic State occupied close to a third of Iraqi territory, including a number of major cities. The civilian death toll in Iraq reached nearly 19,000 during the war, and the damage caused is said to amount to around 100 billion USD. Rebuilding the country – both physically and psychologically – will take years.
For the roughly 37 million Iraqi citizens, the victory will re-energize their dreams of peace and normality. Hopefully, the elimination of the Islamic State in the region will be noted in history as a crucial turning point in the pursuit of stability in the Middle East. In order to make this a reality, the global community should assist the Iraqi government (and other Middle Eastern governments) with renewed vigour; preventing an Islamic State clone from emerging from the ashes should be a global priority. Furthermore, it is essential that Western foreign policy mistakes of the past – arguably key drivers of recent conflict – are not repeated. The lives of a large portion of the Iraqi population have been dominated by conflict; they deserve a chance to experience real peace.
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