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With Mosul liberated, how does Iraq make sure ISIS can’t make a comeback?

July 11, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
The Iraqi city of Mosul was declared liberated on Monday after being held by Islamic State militants since 2014. How does the Iraqi government plan to rebuild and to prevent ISIS from returning? Judy Woodruff speaks with Feisal Istrabadi of the Indiana University Bloomington about next steps for Iraq’s second-largest city.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Iraqi leaders and the top American military commander in Iraq proclaimed the liberation of the city of Mosul yesterday. But what’s the next step in that war-torn country? Does the Iraqi government have a plan to prevent ISIS from returning and to rebuild Iraq’s second largest city?

For some answers, we turn to Feisal Istrabadi. He’s a former Iraqi diplomat, and he’s now director of the Middle East Center at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Feisal Istrabadi, welcome back to the program.

How much of a blow to ISIS was the retaking of the city of Mosul?

FEISAL ISTRABADI, Former Iraqi Diplomat: Well, it’s a huge blow, because one of the ways in which ISIL distinguished its brand from al-Qaida before was that it was able to conquer and hold territory, erase an international boundary, declare a caliphate, and engage in the fight against forces that regard it as infidel, be they other Muslims or Western forces.

And so it sort of distinguished itself in that way. And now it is retreating. It has lost the largest city that it occupied. There are plans under way to make it lose Raqqa as well in Syria, and slowly — and hopefully not slowly to expel it from Iraq. So, it’s a psychological and an ideological, huge blow to ISIL.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it still control? What capability does it still have?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, it still has the ability — I mean, your own reporting earlier in the program was that it still is able to put on sort of the skirmish attacks, although, last week, it was able to manage to conduct an attempt at a counterattack, which was repelled, of course.

But the main fear that I have now is that ISIL becomes a classical terrorist organization, as al-Qaida was before, able to pull off, you know, attacks of varying size in Baghdad and other places. And we’re already seeing that it is metamorphosing into that kind of an organization. And that again is deeply disturbing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how well-equipped is the government of Iraq to deal with that?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: It’s very difficult to repel those sorts of attacks.

You have to have perfect intelligence and a perfect ability to respond. And, unfortunately, neither the Iraqi government now, nor the Americans when they had a large presence, when the U.S. had a large presence in Iraq, have been able to control that.

The ultimate solution for this problem has to be political. It has to be a situation where sort of the underlying disease which has allowed at least enough people to fail to participate in the political process, that sort of disease has to be treated, rather than continuing to treat the symptoms of the disease.

And that, we have collectively, the Iraqis, the international community, we have collectively failed to do that over the years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re referring to the sectarian divisions in Iraq that have led to one group prevailing over another.

Do you see any improvement in the Shia-Sunni divisions in Iraq over the last several years since the larger war ended there?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: I see hope that the future need not be what the past has been.

I think that, in distinction to his predecessor, the current prime minister of Iraq has good intentions. What we don’t have, however, is a plan. Good intentions will not get us past this sort of impasse that we have been in since after 2003.

There needs to be a coming together of the Iraqi political class, and a sort of a sorting out of what our priorities are and how we prepare our modus vivendi, how we engage in reconciliation, what kinds of power-sharing we’re willing to engage, all within a larger constitutional, democratic framework.

And that, unfortunately, we haven’t done. And now we have to do it at the same time as we have the reconstruction of the country at hand, as well, of course, as providing immediate humanitarian relief for the refugees fleeing the cities that are being liberated from ISIL.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And when you speak of we having to do this, are you referring to the United States or are you referring to the Iraqi government?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: All of us.

I think that that is something that the international community, the United States, of course the Iraqis in the first instance — it has to be an Iraqi project in the first instance. But the United States is a part of the process. The international community needs to encourage these three tracks, sort of the immediate humanitarian relief, the physical rebuilding of the country, and, more importantly, the political rebuilding of the country.

That is going to be sort of a multipronged effort that has to occur simultaneously. And the Iraqis will need the support of the international community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And very, very quickly, you see the will of the international community to do that?

FEISAL ISTRABADI: I hope so, because the failure of the Iraqis to do this, the failure of the international community to support this effort will mean that, just as al-Qaida left ISIL, this incarnation of ISIL will lead to ISIL 2.0, 3.0, 4.0.

And that’s just condemning the Middle East, the region and perhaps the world to an endless cycle of violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A sobering message.

Feisal Istrabadi, we thank you very much.

FEISAL ISTRABADI: Thank you. It’s a pleasure, as always.

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