Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the country’s military forces have been victorious over ISIS and have driven them from Iraq.
The Iraqi military drove ISIS from their last strongholds along the Iraq-Syria border. But the next phase of the conflict with ISIS will prove daunting as isolated pockets of fighters are expected to wage a guerrilla war.
“Honorable Iraqis: your land has been completely liberated. The dream of liberation is now a reality,” Abadi said in a televised address. He was speaking with five Iraqi flags and dozens of servicemen from different branches behind him.
“We have accomplished a very difficult mission. Our heroes have reached the final strongholds of Daesh and purified it. The Iraqi flag flies high today over all Iraqi lands.”
Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Several squadrons of Iraqi helicopters flew over Baghdad carrying Iraqi flags at noon, in an apparent rehearsal for a victory parade that Iraq is planning to hold in coming days.
The government said the declaration meant Iraqi forces had secured the western desert and the entire Iraq-Syria border, and marked the end of the war against Islamic State.
Abadi declared Dec. 10 a national holiday to be celebrated every year. State television aired celebratory songs praising government forces and militias, and showed scenes of celebration on the streets of Baghdad and other provinces.
You didn’t really expect him to thank the U.S. for our assistance, did you? A victory by the Iraqi military would not have been possible without considerable help from the U.S. Air Force.
Al-Abadi apparently has few illusions about what the future holds in the fight against ISIS:
Abadi said Iraq had entered “the post-victory over Daesh phase” and must be prepared for future threats.
“Daesh’s dream is over and we must erase all its effect and not allow terrorism to return. Despite announcing final victory, we must remain vigilant and prepared against any terrorist attempt on our country, for terrorism is an eternal enemy.”
Given what we’ve seen elsewhere from ISIS, Iraq has a long, bloody road ahead.
And that road won’t get any easier for Abadi. He must now disarm the dozens of Shiite militias who took up arms in response to a fatwa from Ayatollah al-Sistani. Otherwise, we are likely to see the rise of another, more powerful version of Hezballah created in Iraq.
Abadi praised the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and Iraq’s top Shi‘ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose fatwa calling volunteers to fight Islamic State led to PMF’s creation.
Still, the prime minister said the state should have a monopoly on the use of arms. Disarming the PMF is seen as Abadi’s most difficult test after Islamic State’s defeat.
“Weapons should only be in the state’s hands. The rule of law and respect for it are the way to build the state and achieve justice, equality, and stability,” he said.
The government of Lebanon has been trying to disarm Hezballah for decades. There is even a UN resolution that calls for Hezballah’s disarmament. But the terrorists refuse to give up their guns.
Something similar could easily happen in Iraq. The largest Shiite party in Iraq, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), could be supplanted by a political-militia organization seen as war heroes by the voters.
There are also the questions facing Iraqis of Kurdish independence, dividing oil revenue, and the massive problem of refugee resettlement. Prime Minister Abadi is going to be very busy and will have to be very lucky for Iraq to emerge from these crises in one piece.