This week marked the start of offensives ultimately aimed at retaking two of ISIS’s last major urban strongholds—Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in Syria, and Fallujah, the first major Iraqi city to fall to ISIS some two years ago. The final prize, Mosul, seems to remain out of reach for the foreseeable future, despite indications a year ago that a battle to retake the city could come any day. An Iraqi army offensive launched in late March stalled quickly.
Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city. ISIS wrested it from Iraqi government control in 2014 in its first major show of strength, and it is where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” and demanded the allegiance of the world’s Muslims. Taking it back will be essential to winning the war against ISIS. But as fighters opposed to ISIS try to advance elsewhere on the battlefield, little is being done to promote the reconciliation between Shia and Sunni Arabs that Iraq really needs—both to construct a force capable of beating ISIS, in Mosul and beyond, and to create the political conditions to prevent its return.
We—the Kurds in Iraq—believe the road to Mosul begins in Baghdad. My colleagues in the Kurdistan Region Security Council and I are working closely with the global coalition in the war on ISIS and planning for the Mosul offensive. (I’m writing here in a personal capacity.) Our peshmerga remain the most effective ground force against ISIS in Iraq, and have already defeated the group on every major front where we’ve faced them, pushing the jihadists to the edge of Mosul after the group’s attempts to expand north from the city. Joint raids by U.S. and Kurdish special-operations forces in and around the city, as well as in Syria, have netted troves of intelligence on the group’s operations and finances.