On December 9th 2017, the Iraqi military declared victory over the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The battle against ISIS has lasted several years and there has been excessive loss of life and property. This declaration from the Iraqi military is a sign of progress in a region that has been ravaged by combat. However, it is important to remember that there is still difficult work to be done after the fighting ends. Rebuilding refers to more than just property and it may be an uphill battle.
ISIS declared a caliphate in 2014 after they had taken 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. This territory extended from the Mediterranean coast to the south of Baghdad. Iraq began fighting back with the help of its allies, including Iran and the United States led coalition, Operation Inherent Resolve. Over a period of three years, there have been 25,000 coalition airstrikes. The near continuous combat has yielded a positive result, but it has also come at a cost.
The process of helping Iraq and Syria rebuild starts with property, but reconstruction is expensive. Costs are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, far beyond the capacity of Iraq and Syria to pay. However, the effort is about more than just buildings and homes. In Iraq, roughly 600,000 children have missed at least a year of education.
The children who have not missed school have been subject to an ISIS controlled curriculum. Additionally, three million Iraqi citizens have been displaced. The numbers are worse in Syria. Over six million Syrians have been displaced, with another five million having left the country altogether. Iraq and Syria will need support from other countries. However, it is important that the resulting culture and environment does not exclude any citizens.
Not all governments want to help rebuild the region for selfless reasons. Iran is the best example. After the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iran began a deeper relationship with Iraq. Both are Shiite majority countries and their partnership was helpful in the fight against ISIS. It has also opened a door for Iran to expand its influence in the region. By providing weapons and resources to Iraq, Iran can establish a corridor to allies in Lebanon and Syria. This may make it more difficult for Sunnis in the region. The Sunnis in Shiite dominated Iraq have no role in the government. ISIS was able to recruit from the Sunni minority in Iraq. Many are worried that further mistreatment could lead to violence in the future.
The role of the United States remains unclear. In addition to military support, the U.S. has contributed almost two billion dollars to humanitarian relief and stabilization. Now that the fighting is over, the U.S may stay out of the rebuilding process. President Donald Trump is not a strong supporter of nation building. It is a long-term commitment and quite expensive. However, it may be worth putting in time. Leaving Iraq and Syria without a recovery plan could result in a re-emergence of ISIS.
The expulsion of ISIS is an important milestone, however, the rebuilding process is equally important. Not only are there citizens that need humanitarian assistance, but the culture of the region needs to be kept in check. If certain people are not helped or included, ISIS could return to the region with force.