Twitter and 24-hour news channels often make it seem like the news and its audience has a short attention span. In fact, when the election and the various vote-counting shenanigans bumped the caravan out of the news for a few days it suddenly became cool to say it was just a publicity stunt. Well, the caravan is back in the news but something like Mosul is not. Yet the latter is still a problem about which we should be concerned. Even though it might not cut through all of the noise over the controversy of the day, Mosul remains a critical front in the war on terror.
Just like the towns hit by hurricanes or fires, the natural disasters receive a good deal of attention while the long and slow rebuilding doesn’t. Plus, positive news doesn’t grab the headlines as much as those disasters of destruction. Historically, Mosul has always been a town known for its music. They introduced the Oriental lute in the 9th century, for example. That stopped during the three years that ISIS ruled the city. But now the musicians are coming back and the streets are once again filled with music. They are even holding book festivals in town and rebuilding Mosul’s university. These items are less likely to make the news and cut through all of the chatter than Navy SEAL accused of war crimes, but it matters.
At the same time though, not everything is rosy in the city because NPR witnesses a few people at the book store. ISIS has remained potent in the area. A military delegation arrived in the province in response to recent attacks; they have blamed rampant corruption among government officials and a disconnect between regional needs and the central government policies for the increase. These are the same factors I pointed to last year as being critical in the war on terror. The people fear this will lead to another resurgence of ISIS. After all, many are still looking for the bodies of their loved ones and many others haven’t returned home.
Corruption is a double whammy for the people of Mosul because there is still significant doubt and delay over reconstruction funds. Once the government doles out those often meager funds, the local officials use it to line their own pockets while doing little to reconstruct the city. For example, unexploded ordnances still harm citizens of Mosul, especially children. Even though it’s literally hurting and killing their citizens, the government has fully cleared the city. City officials are still finding mass graves of Yadizis and other civilians from the war which reminds everybody of how fragile the peace is in Mosul. So the deep trauma from the war still reverberates for the citizens of the city.
The terrorists have been defeated on the battlefield, and the city is free from the rule of violent and extreme terrorists—an important first step. But a great deal of work remains to be done. ISIS and other groups often gain recruits by offering people a glorious purpose and mission in what is otherwise an empty existence in spiritual and material poverty. There are few jobs, a broken justice system, dilapidated schools and hospitals, and little-coordinated traffic flow on the rubble-choked streets. Rebuilding Mosul is important for the safety and well-being of the residents that have suffered so much, but also because a strong and vibrant city, culture, and (non-radical) spiritual life drains the appeal of ISIS recruiting.
To avoid the pattern of the United States winning battles but then losing the peace and policymakers, the public should be very concerned about the rebuilding of Mosul. Just because the battle was won, the U.S. can’t forget about the people in the city. A failure in the long-term commitment to winning the peace has caused numerous setbacks that undo the great work of the U.S. military.