Dressed in a military uniform, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived here in Mosul on Sunday to congratulate Iraq’s armed forces on its victory over the Islamic State and mark the formal end of a bloody campaign that lasted nearly nine months, left much of Iraq’s second-largest city in ruins, killed thousands of people and displaced nearly a million more.I am personally very impressed by this victory because I was worried that it might not happen. I found it easy to imagine government forces bogged down indefinitely in the suburbs, unwilling to take the casualties necessary to reach the Old City, blaming each other for the impasse. That this did not happen says something important about the Iraqi army and, by extension, the Iraqi nation. A country whose army can fight and win such a long, difficult campaign is not about to be swept away by a small fanatical movement.
While Iraqi troops were still mopping up the last pockets of resistance and Iraqi forces could be facing suicide bombers and guerrilla attacks for weeks, the military began to savor its win in the shattered alleyways of the old city, where the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, put up a fierce last stand.
Hanging over the declaration of victory is the reality of the hard road ahead. The security forces in Mosul still face dangers, including ISIS sleeper cells and suicide bombers. And they must clear houses rigged with explosive booby-traps so civilians can return and services can be restored. Nor is the broader fight over: Other cities and towns in Iraq remain under the militants’ control.
Moderate, mainstream sort of people often fear fanatics too much. Every once in a while a movement appears with the strength and cleverness to take advantage of a chaotic situation and seize power. More often, fanatics marginalize themselves and fall to infighting and are easily beaten by the forces of any competent state. If post-Saddam Iraq is now a competent state, that will be a huge boon for the stability of the region.