The Iraqi victory over the Islamic State in Mosul is something that both Iraqis and Americans can celebrate. Iraqis from all sects and ethnicities fought together bravely for months to liberate the city from a truly barbaric enemy.
We have many reasons to be optimistic about Iraq’s future. Just as the Iraqis are leading the way on the battlefield, they are leading the effort to stabilize their liberated communities. An Iraqi-led, United Nations-supported stabilization program has enabled nearly two million internally displaced Iraqis to return home, including nearly one million in Anbar Province.
We have seen this in Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah and, most recently, East Mosul. Communities are coming back to life. Mosul University students are now pitching in to clear debris so classes can start in the fall. In East Mosul, 350,000 children have returned to school.Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s steady leadership and empowerment of local officials has been a key reason for Iraq’s success against ISIS. By giving provincial and local leaders the authority and resources to rebuild communities, he has built trust across communal lines and set the stage for long-term stability.
There are still battles left to fight in ISIS-controlled Tal Afar, Hawijah and al-Qaim. With time and continued U.S. support, we are confident that Iraqis will liberate these areas.
Optimism about Iraq’s future shouldn’t blind us to the considerable challenges it faces. The country needs to heal and overcome sectarian divisions. Iraq’s economy, after years of war and low oil prices, needs reform. Corruption discourages private sector initiative. ISIS will persist as a terrorist threat long after it no longer controls territory.
But these problems can be addressed now that the ISIS “caliphate” has been defeated. Iraq boasts the world’s second largest oil reserves and has shown itself to be a resilient democracy.
With the continued support of the United States and international community, Iraq is positioned to emerge in the post-ISIS era stronger and more unified than ever before.