Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote that if a victory is told in detail, it becomes hard to distinguish it from a defeat. This is certainly true of the current narrative about the recapture of the Iraqi city of Mosul, held by the Islamic State (ISIS) since June 2014.
With embedded reporters dramatically reporting minute-by-minute advances, an obvious fact is left unspoken: that Iraq’s second largest city, a community of close to two million residents, has been in the hands of a non-state armed group for two and a half years.
However formidable a military force ISIS is, such an entity simply should not be in control of a city of that magnitude.
Beyond the expected difficulty of retaking Mosul, two facts indicate that the upcoming victory will be outweighed by the larger historical issues raised by ISIS. The ongoing, decade-old militarized insurgency throughout Iraq will continue. And the elasticity of ISIS’s positioning across the region will mean it can find new territory.
The Long Battle for Mosul
The “Battle for Mosul” narrative has been going on for so long that it is now in its third edition.
In August 2014, as the Iraqi army was still dealing with its shock eviction from Mosul by ISIS (around 30,000 soldiers reportedly fled the region in the face of 1,500 militants), Iraq’s military (with United States aerial support) initiated engagements with the group around the city.
In October, it was announced that plans to retake the city were under consideration. Later that year, Iraqi officials declared that the offensive was still under preparation. A year later, in December 2015, following the liberation of Ramadi, it was again announced that Mosul would be next. Read more