ISIL [as ISIS is widely known] is being pushed back from territories it once controlled, and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Peshmerga have been important partners in this effort. My concern is holding these territories in the future, particularly since expelling ISIL could not have been done fully without Coalition airstrikes.
The larger challenge will be addressing the root causes of ISIL and whether the ISF, local forces, and Peshmerga can stabilize ISIL-free territories. The Peshmerga are challenged because have assumed de-facto control over former ISIL strongholds and extended their territories by about 50%, which has stirred tensions with some Arab and minority groups.
The Peshmerga have been important partners but their effectiveness remains limited to Kurdish populated territories and not ISIL strongholds. They cannot go into Mosul City – nor do they want to – because there would be Arab backlash.
The Iraqi government will be challenged to create conditions where the Sunni Arab community feels it is an integral part of the Iraqi state, and where it can temper the deep distrust and revenge between communities in the midst of revenue shortfalls. That involves reconstruction, resettlement of internally displaced populations, and local security and governance. This challenge is more nuanced than a ‘Sunni-Shi’a’ divide, and is based on distinct local issues, personalities, and territories.
The views expressed are Dr Natali’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the US government.