http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/iraq-marks-one-year-since-victory-against-is/article/538661

Iraq marks one year since 'victory' against IS

Posted Dec 10, 2018 by Ali Choukeir (AFP)
Iraq's premier on Monday marked a year since his country declared victory against the Islamic State group by pledging to fight corruption next, even as he faces a political crisis within his government.
In this file photo taken on June 30  2017 a member of Iraq's counter-terrorism squad flashes a ...
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2017 a member of Iraq's counter-terrorism squad flashes a victory sign as others hold upside-down an Islamic State group flag outside Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul's Old City after IS was ousted from the area
FADEL SENNA, AFP/File

Iraq's premier on Monday marked a year since his country declared victory against the Islamic State group by pledging to fight corruption next, even as he faces a political crisis within his government.

A year ago, his predecessor announced the conclusion of a three-year battle to oust IS, putting an end to the so-called jihadist "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq after they seized swathes of Iraq.

It was "the biggest victory against the forces of evil and terrorism," said Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi on Monday, speaking at a ceremony at the ministry of defence.

He said Iraq could now turn to a host of other challenges, including hundreds of thousands of people still displaced, widespread unemployment, and rampant corruption.

"The final victory we hope for is achieving our people's ambitions and hopes," he said.

"Corruption was and remains one of the many faces of ruin and terrorism. If we do not eliminate corruption, our victory will be lacking."

In a congratulatory note on Twitter, Iraqi President Barham Saleh said Monday marked "the anniversary of victory over the ugliest criminal assault that history has seen".

"Our heroes achieved military victory at a high price, giving us the duty to achieve the final victory with a political, social, and cultural win," he said.

- 'A new start'? -

IS, which traces its roots to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, sent shockwaves across the world when it swept across a third of Iraq in 2014.

This file combo created on January 10  2018 shows smoke rising next to the Al-Hadba minaret of the A...
This file combo created on January 10, 2018 shows smoke rising next to the Al-Hadba minaret of the Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul's Old City on June 18, 2017 during an assault by Iraqi forces against jihadists and the destroyed minaret six months later
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE, AFP/File

It swiftly took over the northern city of Mosul, making it the de facto capital of its "caliphate".

For three years, Iraqi government troops, paramilitary units, and US-led coalition forces waged a brutal fight to oust the jihadists, finally recapturing Mosul in June 2017.

In the early hours of December 9, then-premier Haider al-Abadi announced "victory" over IS, and the following day was declared a national holiday.

To mark the one-year anniversary on Monday, checkpoints and military vehicles across the capital Baghdad were decorated with balloons.

The government said it would reopen part of the high-security Green Zone, home to key official offices and western embassies, for five hours each evening starting Monday.

But beyond the celebrations, the country remains mired in crisis.

Parliamentary elections in May produced no clear ruling coalition, with political divisions paralysing Abdel Mahdi's efforts to fill key cabinet positions.

"Lacking both a political and a popular base, Abdel Mahdi has found himself hostage to the very vested interests and political forces that Iraqis hoped his government would stand up to," said Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute.

"The prolonged government formation process has had far too much business-as-usual for a population that was expecting -- indeed demanding -- a new start following the territorial defeat of IS."

- Hit-and-runs -

An Iraqi man waves his national flag in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on December 10  2017  during a ...
An Iraqi man waves his national flag in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on December 10, 2017, during a gathering celebrating the end of the three-year war against the Islamic State (IS) group
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE, AFP

Abdel Mahdi's pledge to stamp out corruption is identical to the one made by Abadi when he announced the win against IS last year.

The former premier was unable to tackle embezzlement of public funds in Iraq, which is the 12th most corrupt country in the world according to Transparency International.

The challenges extend beyond the political. Much of the country remains in ruins, including large swathes of the north, as authorities struggle to gather funds to rebuild.

More than 1.8 million Iraqis are still displaced, many languishing in camps, and 8 million require humanitarian aid, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Observers also fear an outbreak of violence either between rival political forces once united against IS, or between authorities and a protest movement angered by lack of services and jobs.

And while IS no longer holds large chunks of territory, it can still wage hit-and-run attacks that chip away at the sense of security many hoped would return.