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The battle for the strategic Iraqi city of Mosul has reached its final stage as Iraqi forces close in on the Islamic State’s last stronghold in Mosul’s Old City. The liberation of Mosul, the second-largest Iraqi city and the capital of oil-rich Nineveh province, would mark a watershed moment in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the broader region. It was in Mosul where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the Caliph of the Islamic State caliphate in July 2014; and he used the city as headquarters to expand the group’s control over other Iraqi regions and into neighboring Syria. If recent past is prologue, though, the military victory in Mosul will not easily translate into long-term peace and stability unless key security, political, social, and economic challenges in the region are addressed.
First, the Islamic State’s territorial loss would not end its acts of violence and terrorism anytime soon. With its regular army battered, the terrorist group will continue asymmetrical warfare tactics to avenge its defeat. By carrying out bombing campaigns and suicide attacks, its sleeper cells will attempt to destabilize Mosul and surrounding regions, impede reconstruction and development projects, undermine essential governance and political reforms, and scuttle reconciliation efforts with the aim of reigniting sectarian tension that aided the rise of the group three years ago.