(The Telegraph newspaper) The US, the UK and their coalition allies are spending billions of dollars on military operations against ISIL and hundreds of millions on humanitarian aid to help people fleeing the militant group and the conflict.
As a result, Iraqi forces, backed by the coalition, are making faster progress than anyone expected in preparations to recapture Isil’s stronghold in Iraq, the city of Mosul. But the funding dedicated to reconciliation efforts that might ensure that such recaptured areas can stay that way over the long term? As of July, just $1.5 million.
Now is the time to dedicate more attention and resources to making sure successful military and humanitarian assistance for Iraq isn’t squandered, requiring American, British and other international forces to return yet again in a few years because, while we might have helped Iraqis win the war, we failed to help them secure the peace. Britons and continental Europeans have seen the consequences: a flood of refugees from Iraq alongside other war-torn countries that is putting immense pressure on Europe and appears to have contributed to the Brexit decision.
Today, as Iraqi and allied forces prepare to retake Mosul, it is imperative to do the hard work of preparing for peace before the main military action is launched. Mosul once was home to a complex mosaic of tribes and ethnic groups. Since taking over the city, ISIL of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has laid waste to communities, creating profound wounds within families and across society. Any euphoria about a liberated Mosul will quickly devolve into recrimination, blood feuds and the spectre of sectarian violence.
The Iraqi government and the coalition estimate that as much as half of Iraqi territory once controlled by ISIL has been recaptured, some of it more than a year ago. Despite these gains, less than a quarter of the four million people displaced have returned to those areas.
Strategic, long-term engagement, a greater focus on reconciliation and getting the politics right could finally consolidate the peace. This is not a pipe dream. The US and Europe have enormous strategic interests in Iraq, and they still have leverage.