The Future of Mosul: Before, During, and After the Liberation

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The post-conflict planning following the 2003 invasion of Iraq was weak at best and as a result many elements were at play that led to the marginalisation and political disenfranchisement of the Sunni community. Consequently, radical entities, such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), exploited local dynamics to take up a position within society in the Sunni areas of Iraq. It is important that the current fight against IS in Iraq avoids this pattern at all costs; if the liberation is devoid of long-term planning it will likely result in the resurfacing of a number of issues responsible for the rise of IS in Iraq in the first place. Lessons must be learnt from the mistakes of post-Saddam planning and these must not be repeated post-IS. There needs to be a multifaceted approach to the preparation for the liberation of Mosul that goes well beyond the military dimension.

The aim of this report is to analyse non-military elements that must be addressed prior to launching the final offensive against IS in Mosul city. Therefore, it focuses on humanitarian planning, issues of governance, as well as post-conflict security, reconstruction and reconciliation. The overall objective is to create an understanding of how to prevent the dynamics that allowed IS to gain a foothold in Iraq from once again coming to the fore and resulting in the return of IS or another radical entity representing Sunni’s marginalisation through violence. Thus, this report examines the key concerns of the Sunni community in Nineveh – whilst taking into consideration that these are not necessarily the same as the minorities’ – and analyses methods to address them within the wider political and constitutional dynamics of Iraq.

The province of Nineveh and the city of Mosul are important sights from which to analyse some of the wider issues in Iraq and as such this report goes beyond a mere analysis of the liberation of Mosul from IS. It addresses some of the pressing issues that concern the very future of Iraq. Therefore, issues such as centralisation and the resulting marginalisation of communities, the federalisation of Iraq, government formation, local governance, and the disputed territories are also analysed.

The report argues that a political and security agreement prior to the liberation operation is essential to prevent conflict from emerging in post-IS Nineveh. From a humanitarian and reconciliation perspective the importance of forming agreements on a thorough process to deal with Internally Displaced People (IDPs), post-conflict reconstruction, justice and education systems, and truth commissions is analysed. The report also examines the significance of the role of a unified local force in the liberation process and the post-conflict security, as well as the forces whose participation in the liberation is acceptable by the population.

From a governance perspective, the value of the federalisation of Iraq is argued from both a theoretical and empirical perspective and thus federalism for Nineveh is recommended. However, the report highlights that the future of the disputed territories should be negotiated on, with the prospect of their constitutional status being decided on a sub-district by sub-district level. This report is written from a policy perspective and thus each section gives a number of recommendations for the respective actors based on the research carried out.

The research for this project was conducted between May and August 2016 and involved interviews with many of the key political actors in Nineveh, as well as the participation and organisation of several workshops on Mosul involving local and international actors. This was complemented by discourse analysis in order to gain a greater understanding of the issues that led to the rise of IS in Iraq.


Prior to the launch of the operation to liberate Mosul it is important that a political deal between the various local actors and the central government is reached. This will ensure that there is a clear understanding of who will govern Nineveh and how. There are currently too many political and military (including exogenous) factions within Nineveh and failure to reach a deal is likely to result in violent conflict. For the same reason, there must also be an agreement for the local armed groups to come together under one command within the wider Iraqi security apparatus.

On a more practical level, the preparations to deal with over one million IDPs must be completed before any liberation can begin. The circumstances witnessed following the June 2016 liberation of Fallujah, where IDPs were living in dire conditions due to lack of preparations, must be avoided at all costs.

Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the territories already liberated from IS must begin immediately, as this will reduce the strain on the IDP camps through allowing people already in them to leave. There must also be a plan, and the resources in place, for the immediate reconstruction of Mosul.

Justice and reconciliation is going to play a significant role in the normalisation of Nineveh and therefore a clear plan must be developed in order to prevent acts of revenge being carried out, by both internal and external actors, which will only act to further complicate the situation.

The time before the liberation should be used to ensure the future of Nineveh is a positive one, and thus the capacity of local politicians and local forces (if unified) should be developed. They will be governing and providing security under extremely difficult circumstances and therefore need all the training they can get to ease this process.

Entering Mosul
The Iraqi army and local forces should be the key forces entering the city, with the coalition forces’ air support and the support of the Peshmerga from the north and east. The coalition forces should also have a role on the ground in a supervisory capacity. The Nineveh Provincial Council (NPC) has voted against the participation of the Hashd al-Shaabi in the liberation of Mosul city. The council represents the local population and their decision should be respected. The local forces, once unified, need to be heavily involved in the post-conflict security of the city in order to give the perception of liberation, rather than occupation.

In order to prevent the issues that led to the marginalisation of Sunnis, and to some extent the rise of IS, there needs to be a process of decentralisation and federalisation in Iraq. Iraq has many of the favourable conditions for federalism and the implementation of the system across Iraq will lead to all communities seeking the same benefits, rather than the current system where the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is alone in this respect. Alongside the federalisation process, drastic changes to the election process, cabinet selection and power sharing mechanisms are also needed.

Nineveh should become a federal region with decentralised power sharing within. This would protect the Sunnis from being politically dominated, as there will be an element of self-governance. At the same time, having a Nineveh federal region would protect minorities from being dominated, as they too would have an element of self-governance through regional decentralisation, as well as power sharing within the federal region. There also needs to be elections held in Nineveh as soon as it is stable enough, as the population needs the opportunity to decide who governs them under these new dynamics.

Disputed Territories
As far as dealing with the disputed territories, Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution has failed to resolve the issue and is best replaced with a new mechanism that still follows the same principles. There needs to be fresh negotiations over the disputed territories between the NPC and the KRG, with the participation of Baghdad and the facilitation of the United States (US). This should involve the potential for the disputed territories to be decided on a sub-district by sub-district basis. However, this process is not dependent on who controls security, therefore the withdrawal of the Peshmerga should not be a prerequisite to negotiations.

Re-establishing Stability
Reconciliation is something that was largely ignored in post-Saddam Iraq and the consequences have been dire – this cannot be repeated in post-IS Iraq. Reconciliation is a complex process and often begins with bringing guilty parties to justice, however there must be a differentiation between those who joined IS voluntarily and those who were forced to due to circumstances. This process must be carefully considered and carried out by a specially established local court system, preferably with an international judiciary supervisor. As part of the reconciliation process, victims of the conflict must be compensated and a truth commission created in order to document exactly what happened and to demonstrate how all communities have suffered.

As soon as mines and booby traps left by IS are cleared, reconstruction must begin. Robust mechanisms must be put in place to prevent corruption in the reconstruction process and there needs to be an oversight process to ensure quality and efficiency. Basic services such as water, electricity, medical care and education need to be restored. The return of the population should be facilitated and the process must be easy to negotiate. At the same time, returnees cannot be worse off than they were in the camps, thus a stipend, food and essentials should be provided alongside the basic services mentioned.

There needs to be a significant investment in the economy of Nineveh. Programmes for job creation and community projects need to be developed to minimise the causes of radicalisation and enhance the reconciliation process. Correspondingly, a deradicalisation programme and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) initiative need to be developed to fit within the dynamics of Nineveh.

A new education system must be established in Nineveh to deal with the fact that many of the youth have been without a proper education for over two years. However, this system needs to run in parallel with the normal education system in order to also accommodate those just starting their education.

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Citation:  O’Driscoll, D. (2016) The Future of Mosul: Before, During, and After the Liberation. MERI Policy Report

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent views of MERI.

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About MERI:  The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.  Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.

MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).

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