Skip to main content

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a writer and documentary filmmaker. His Peshmerga!, a Special Selection at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, portrayed the struggle along the 1,000-kilometre front line separating the Kurds from Islamic State. His subsequent film, La bataille de Mossoul (2017) explored the fight to retake the city.

There are joyous liberations. Of Paris in 1944, for example – a liberation insurrectionary and exultant.

And then there are leaden liberations: Warsaw's in 1944; Berlin's in 1945; and, more recently, Sarajevo's in 1996.

Story continues below advertisement

The liberation of Mosul obviously falls into the second category.

Related: Clashes shake western Mosul after victory over Islamic State militants declared

Watch: Iraqi PM declares victory over Islamic State in Mosul

Opinion: What's next for the conflict in the Middle East?

There is a sense of relief, of course.

There is, too, the elation of victory – and, for someone who experienced some of the most terrible phases of the battle from the inside, there is intense emotion.

But seeing the images of survivors emerging from the city, their faces frightened and drawn from eight months in hell; viewing the field of ruin to which one of the oldest cities in the world has been reduced; reckoning up the numbers of those killed, those displaced, people from whom the Islamic State took everything while losing this war, it is hard not to feel great dismay.

Story continues below advertisement

Was it really necessary, first of all, to wait three years before deciding to act?

Before launching the assault, did we have to give the enemy time to fortify its positions, to acquire sophisticated weapons, to irrigate terrorist networks abroad, to slaughter and then slaughter some more?

When the evidence of horror was as manifest as it was in Mosul, could we not have taken the initiative and killed the serpent's egg, as Ingmar Bergman urges in one of his finest films?

And what of the day after the liberation?

Will the coalition decide that its job is done now that it has finally managed to overcome, with its vast forces, a few thousand badly disciplined fighters who were strong only because of our weaknesses?

And will we, once more, brag that the mission is accomplished, as the stragglers from the ragtag Islamist force fall back to Hawija, Tal Afar, Raqqa … or Paris?

Story continues below advertisement

What fate will the victors reserve for the million Mosul residents, so many of whom viewed Islamic State favourably before quickly becoming disenchanted?

Will the victors treat those who remained – or who fled very late in the game – as collaborators, or will they see them instead as hostages?

Is it possible that we may fail to realize the behaviour of the liberators – whether magnanimous or inspired by revenge – will determine the future face of a city that, with a little work, could be turned into a laboratory of peace and reconciliation?

Who will lend themselves to that work of reconstruction, work that if done right will be a second liberation?

Iraq? A state that has been in a state of chronic chaos since the fall of Saddam Hussein?

Iraq alone, a state governed by Shiites, whose hate for the Sunni majority of Mosul's population is an open secret?

Instead, might we not imagine, given the high stakes, that the city should come temporarily under international administration? Why not – confronted with this blank slate on which no schools, hospitals, repositories of memory or social forums remain standing – entrust reconstruction to a pool of donor nations, global institutions and sovereign funds, Arab and non-Arab? Is it not geo-politically critical that the former Nineveh should become again the cosmopolitan city that it has been since humans began living in cities?

And one last question: what about the Kurds?

It was the Kurdish peshmerga that, in October and November, 2016, opened Mosul's gates for the Iraqis.

It is they who, for two long years, held fast while the Iraqi army recovered from the rout of August, 2014; it is they who held a front line a thousand kilometres long before ultimately repelling the Islamic State. Fighters, they were, from the very start, sentinels of a free world that everywhere else was buckling under the Islamist surge.

And so, the question is this: Will the world, having thanked the Kurds on the eve of the final battle, dismiss the historic role they played?

On Sept. 25, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan will vote in a referendum on the independence that was promised them a century ago and to which they believe more strongly than ever that they have a right.

In a way, that question is addressed to the world as well; and the world will have to choose between two responses:

  • To throw up a great hue and cry, as Ankara, Tehran and Moscow have already done, to urge this erstwhile ally, no longer needed, to be a good little ally and to cool its heels. Let’s not add chaos to chaos, goes the argument; let’s not pour more powder into the powder keg of the area; no one needs a new state to further inflame a Middle East that is already complicated enough.
  • Or to heed the opposing voices contending that Iraq is the factitious state, a state born from the convulsions of the First World War, a colonial artifact. And to bring stability to the region nothing could be better, the counterargument continues, than to recognize a nation already endowed with solid democratic institutions, a culture of respect for non-Kurdish minorities and for women, a taste for secularism, a concern for good governance and a sincere tilt toward the West.

For me, having spent two years criss-crossing these lands of strife and hope, the right answer is as clear as day.

Far from destabilizing the region, the emergence of a free Kurdistan would be a potent force for stability and peace.

The conclusion of the battle of Mosul challenges us all to make this heartfelt choice for justice and reason.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.