Why Mustafa Al Kadhimi’s visit to Mosul is important

The new prime minister's trip to former ISIS stronghold shows that there is finally political will in the country

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Exactly six years after ISIS took control of Iraq’s second city, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi visited Mosul, promising to never let the city suffer from that type of terrorism again. Less than a week after completing his cabinet formation, Mr Al Kadhimi went to Mosul declaring that “corruption” was behind ISIS taking over the city, and it is that corruption that his government must fight.

Mr Al Kadhimi’s list of national priorities is long, as is the list of challenges. A crushing financial crisis, outbreak of Covid-19, protests, militias intent on maintaining their interests, to name just a few.

Yet he prioritised the visit to Mosul in a show of both strength against terrorism and to understand the concerns of ordinary Iraqis that have largely been left unaddressed.

While ISIS has been defeated in Mosul, the militias that have spread in Ninewah province are hugely problematic. Standing next to Mr Al Kadhimi throughout the trip was a man who played a vital role in the liberation of Mosul, the head of the Counter Terrorism Force, Lieutenant General Abdulwahhab Al Saadi.

General Al Saadi became a national hero as he was in the front lines fighting ISIS and is known for his rejection of sectarianism – making him an enemy of Iranian-backed militias.

Former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi removed General Al Saadi last year, sparking nationwide protests. Within days of becoming Prime Minister, Mr Al Kadhimi reinstated General Al Saadi and promoted him. Having him by his side in Mosul, Mr Al Kadhimi was indicating serious security sector reform.

Symbolism was high during the day-long visit of Mr Al Kadhimi: from the famed 12th century Al Nuri Mosque from where ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared his false caliphate, to the reopening of the restored Freedom Bridge that connects Mosul’s eastern bank to its historic west. And while these gestures were significant, there will need to be immediately followed up to prove that these gestures were the start of concrete action, rather than a substitute.

The visit to Mosul came during a strict curfew and with heightened security measures, in a telling sign about the security situation. Three years after the defeat of ISIS, most of the western part of the city remains destroyed, unemployment is high and hundreds of thousands of Muslawis remain in displacement camps.

Resolving these issues will require political will and resources. Mr Al Kadhimi’s visit shows that there is finally political will and Iraq is not short on resources if corruption is quelled.