Mosul after ISIS: A Conversation with Omar Mohammed

The once anonymous Iraqi news blogger who reported from Mosul during ISIS’ occupation spoke at GW about the city’s redevelopment following its recapture from the group.

January 21, 2020

Omar Mohammed, Mosul Eye

Omar Mohammed risked his life to publish the anonymous news blog, Mosul Eye, which became a vital source of news for thousands trapped in the city during the ISIS occupation. (Photo by: Harrison Jones/GW Today)

By Tatyana Hopkins

A stable and thriving Mosul is critical to preventing ISIS’ re-emergence in the region, and the Iraqi government must do more to stabilize and rebuild the city following its nearly three-year occupation by the terrorist organization and a devasting nine-month offensive to recapture it from the group, said Iraqi historian and journalist Omar Mohammed.

“It is important to have a strong Mosul,” he said. “If we can’t find a normal life in Mosul again, ISIS will always find space to re-emerge.”

Dr. Mohammed spoke Wednesday at Gelman Library’s National Churchill Library and Center about Mosul’s redevelopment since the city’s liberation from ISIS control in July 2017.

The event was organized by the George Washington University Program on Extremism. Mike Giglio, a staff writer for the Atlantic and author of “Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate,” moderated the discussion.

A native of the city and a former professor at the University of Mosul, Dr. Mohammed reported on the destruction of local landmarks, persecution of religious minorities, executions of political dissenters and other atrocities committed during the ISIS occupation through a then-anonymous news blog, Mosul Eye.

Dr. Mohammed said the city saw “unimaginable” damage following the nine-month battle to liberate it, including from airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition that left “areas in the city the size of football fields crumbled.”  

Asserting that the devastation was the result of Iraqi and American governments undertaking the liberation effort due to political pressures rather than sound military strategy, he said the international coalition should “rebuild what they destroyed.” Ultimately, though, he said the responsibility rests with the Iraqi government.

But he said the government has been slow in its recovery efforts.

“After the liberation of Mosul, [the city] is no longer a priority for the Iraqi government,” he said. “All reconstruction has mainly been undertaken by the citizens. The government has still not [rebuilt] the airport in the city or the main hospital. People are suffering from lack of medical and health care in the city because there is no hospital. Anyone who wants to go for treatment must leave the city.”

He said the government’s inaction could fuel new ISIS propaganda in the region.

“ISIS will say, ‘Look what the Iraqi government did to your city, they destroyed it, and they are not rebuilding it,’” he said. “There is a fragile situation, and ISIS wouldn’t hesitate to re-emerge.”

He noted the growing political and economic influence of the large, well-armed Shiite militias who helped liberate Sunni areas from ISIS in the region as another potential source of the revival of ISIS in the area, as he said they gave former ISIS leaders “a place to turn after the fall of the caliphate.”

“In a silent way, [Mosul] is becoming completely under the control, financially and politically, [of] the militias,” Dr. Mohammed said. “The militias are controlling the economic life of the city…just like ISIS did, even international funds. The only way to get rid of ISIS and the militias is to build a real democracy [and] to help the people restore their lives.”

He also emphasized the importance of a continued American presence in the area, noting that ISIS began laying the foundation for its stronghold in Mosul soon after the 2011 withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

“Any withdrawal of American troops from Mosul in this time will not only see the re-emergence of ISIS… but will lead to a most extreme version of ISIS,” he predicted. “You can’t see the presence of American troops in Mosul, but they are keeping the balance there.”