After three long years, forces have liberated Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from the grips of ISIS. From CNN:

“From here, from the heart of the liberated and free Mosul, by the sacrifices of the Iraqis from all the provinces, we declare the great victory for all of Iraq and Iraqis,” [Iraqi PM Haider] al-Abadi said. “This is a great celebration that crowned the victories of the fighters and the Iraqis over the last three years.”

The Iraqi forces, with help from a U.S.-led coalition, ended the occupation in Badush, located 10 moles northwest of Mosul. Ironically, that’s the town ISIS first captured on June 6, 2014, on its mission to take Mosul.

While the victory is something to celebrate, it is also bittersweet. ISIS has obliterated the large city into nothing. CNN continued:

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said that there was no time to waste in beginning social and physical reconstruction.

“The first challenge facing the Iraqi government and international organizations is to provide basic necessities of life for more than 400,000 Iraqis who have been displaced from the western part of Mosul, which mostly lies in ruins,” Gerges told CNN.

He estimated that rebuilding the Old City alone would cost $1 billion.

The terrorist group also ran out the citizens or captured them for slavery. Former residents have traveled back to Mosul to rebuild their lives. CNN reporters witnessed “signs of life returning to normal — traffic on the roads and chickens being sold in makeshift markets.”

The ISIS threat has not completely left Mosul or the surrounding towns. The terrorist group still holds Tal Afar, which is only 40 miles away from Mosul. From the BBC:

Forces from the Mosul battle are already being dispatched to Tal Afar to begin the clearance of that city. Covering less than one-eighth the surface area of Mosul, Tal Afar is a long-term stronghold of IS and may still require weeks or months of fighting to liberate.

Some 290km to the south-west of Mosul, IS also holds a string of towns in Anbar province along the Iraqi portion of the River Euphrates.

Collectively known as al-Qaim, these towns are closely connected to the remaining IS strongholds in the Euphrates valley in Syria, such as Raqqa and Deir al-Zour.

Iranian-Backed Militias

The BBC also mentions that ISIS has found a way back into places that forces drove them out of including “Diyala province, where Iranian-back militias have thrown fuel on the fire by undertaking collective punishment of the Sunni Arab community.”

This could cause problems in the future for future flare-ups or even lead to new terrorist groups. PBS reported back in March that the involvement of these militias have “already alienated some of the country’s Sunni population.” PBS continued:

Some of the Shia militias have a long record of sectarian abuses, and experts say renewed reports of detentions, disappearances, and in some cases summary executions of Sunnis by militia members, could one day result in another Sunni insurgency — like the one that led to ISIS’s rise.

Human Rights Watch had warned the coalition the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Badr Organization, and the Hezbollah Brigades should not take part in the operation to retake Mosul. PBS reported:

The report said Badr Organization and the Hezbollah Brigades allegedly detained and beat hundreds of Sunni men who were escaping from fighting in Fallujah. Dozens were reportedly executed, hundreds were disappeared and a dozen corpses were mutilated. Badr, the Hezbollah Brigades, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and other militias were also accused of detaining Sunni civilians without the authority to do so, and looting and destroying property. The alleged abuses, Human Rights Watch noted, followed similar allegations near other ISIS-held towns liberated with the help of Shia militias.

Abadi decided to “formally recognize the PMR as an ‘independent military formation’ in Iraq’s security forces” in 2016, but experts said that he “exerts very little control outside of Baghdad.”

Researcher Phillip Smyth at the University of Maryland stated that is because the fighters have an allegiance “to the leadership of their individual militias.”