The fall of Mosul to a coalition of forces led by government troops and supported by Americans brought to an end a nine-month attack on and siege of the ancient Iraqi city.
Mosul had been held by the Islamic State, from which the IS had declared its caliphate, since June 2014. Its control by the IS had been a grave embarrassment to the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and he went there to proclaim its fall and to praise the hodgepodge of forces that took it.
There remain unresolved issues surrounding Mosul. The issue for Americans at this point is the degree to which these questions engage the United States, which still has some 5,000 troops in Iraq. The first of these is future control of Mosul. The “liberation” was carried out by the Iraqi government’s predominantly Shiite Muslim forces, plus Iranian Shiite and Iraqi Shiite militias, Kurds and the Americans, who provided the air support that played a large part in driving out the IS. Al-Abadi hopes that his government will assume control of Mosul, supported by the Americans, but that is not a done deal.
A second problem, perhaps the most urgent one, is providing humanitarian relief both to residents of Mosul, who stayed behind and endured the siege and liberation, and to returnees, people who fled and now will seek to return to what is left of their homes and businesses. The burden of that task should fall to the Iraqi government, to nongovernmental humanitarian organizations and, perhaps, to the United States.
A third long-term problem is the reconstruction of Mosul. Basically, the allied attackers destroyed the city to save it, leaving particularly the western part of Mosul in ruins, largely from U.S. air strikes. Organizations like Amnesty International are blaming the United States and its allies, rightly or wrongly, for the high toll of civilian deaths that occurred during the battle. There is a sort of “you broke it, you bought it” aspect to this chapter of U.S. combat in Iraq.
A fourth question is what to do about the IS forces that fled into the rest of Iraq and Syria as they were pushed out of Mosul. The U.S.-supported battle for Raqqa in Syria, the other ostensible IS capital, continues. There is some small hope that it will not last as long as the effort to take Mosul, but it could. In any case, there are still many IS forces running loose in both Iraq and Syria and what to do about them remains a preoccupying question, in Baghdad, Damascus, Washington and Moscow. It is safe to say that most Americans, apart from the ones who continue to make money from the conflict in Iraq, are completely tired of war there. It started in 1991 and has continued intermittently ever since, for some 26 years. It has also been expensive, in American lives and money. The fall of IS in Mosul is, indisputably, a step in the right direction. At the same time, the questions it leaves unresolved and the level of continued U.S. involvement that resolution of them could entail are very disturbing to a country trying to figure out its real priorities in foreign and domestic policies.