Aِbbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
I am coming back to this series of articles to address another catastrophic consequence of the Mosul occupation by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), that is the traumatized population and what to expect from the demoralization that is underway in this devastated region. The citizens of Mosul have been under ISIS control for almost two years, and the way liberation plans are moving, it seems that they will be controlled by ISIS for another year or maybe more. What does this mean for their future political, social, and religious orientation?
Let us, before answering this question, take a step back and look at Mosul before ISIS. The city was Iraq’s most important Sunni cultural icon, with its unique music, food, poetry, and social identity. Out of all Iraqi Sunni centers, Mosul was the least likely city to embrace the rigid religiosity and social norms of ISIS. For centuries, Mosul was the home of all Iraqi ethnic groups (Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, Chaldeans) and an assortment of Iraqi religions and sects (Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Izadis and, until recently, Jews). It is very hard to imagine that the people of this city would choose to live under one color of everything, as ISIS made their present life.
But this past is behind us now and the city is without Christians for the first time in almost 2,000 years and it is without the Shia for the first time in more than a 1,000 years, and the tragedy of the Izadis needs no further elaboration. The big question is this: will the liberation of Mosul undo the arrangement ISIS put in place? The answer is an emphatic “No”. It will be impossible to convince the victims of ISIS that what happened to them was an anomaly after seeing their neighbors in many cases turn against them and loot their homes and lead ISIS to them. With this broken trust, it will be insane to risk it again and return to live among the same people.
The other grave consequence of the ISIS occupation in Mosul is the damage to the souls of its citizens, which is irreversible in some cases. Since taking control, ISIS recruited thousands of men and women in Mosul and turned them into terrorists. What will happen to those people and their families? Will they be brought to justice, or their defense of “I was forced to do it” is going to be accepted, as many Ba’athist criminals were given a second chance? And if so, what do we expect of them?
And what about the minors whose personality is being shaped by ISIS education and training? Will the children who were trained to slaughter human beings be rehabilitated? What kind of psychological programs can reverse their acquired psychopathic tendencies? Indeed, even the general population of Mosul has been touched in various degrees by the daily display of barbarism. It is hard to tell what kind of a human beings are in the crowds that gather to watch public beheading and shooting events and instead of feeling sick because of it, they watch and hold their cell phones with steady hands to film the scenes for memory’s sake. Is this a sign of a psychologically stable population? Who is going to make the determination, and on what basis?
ISIS has turned what once was a great city into a nest of demons. The longer its control lasts, the harder this corruption of human mind and soul will be reversed. Mosul may be liberated in a year or two, but the aftermath of this social catastrophe will be with us for generations to come. In other words, Iraq’s greatest challenge is not how to get Mosul from ISIS, but how to get ISIS out out of Mosul.