Small Wars Journal

Making Victory Count After Defeating ISIS

Sat, 07/29/2017 - 7:00pm

Making Victory Count After Defeating ISIS by Shelly Culbertson and Linda Robinson - RAND Corporation

This report investigates humanitarian and stabilization needs in Iraq, through a case study of Mosul, and offers recommendations for immediate actions for stabilization after military operations to liberate it from ISIS. The study is based on data collection and review; visits to Iraq; and more than 50 in-depth interviews with a range of key senior officials. The research team examined humanitarian needs, security implications, infrastructure and services, and governance and reconciliation. All of these activities will affect the immediate stabilization of Mosul, and Iraq more broadly, including whether civilians can return home.

Another wave of violence could engulf Iraq in a matter of months if stabilization activities are insufficiently robust. The gains already earned through combat need to be consolidated to secure peace through adequate humanitarian and stabilization measures. The actions needed are in great part dependent on Iraq's national government plans, decisions, and implementation, as well as diplomatic support and funding from the international community. The results achieved thus far demonstrate that success is possible through a moderate but thoughtfully applied set of programs that leverage the will and know-how of local and international actors.

Key Findings

Iraq and the Coalition Actively Sought to Minimize Civilian Casualties

  • Iraq, with UN support and coalition funding, carried out humanitarian and stabilization programs. Aid was delivered in conflict zones and in internally displaced person (IDP) camps.
  • Major conflict was avoided among host communities and IDPs. Substantial Baghdad–Kurdistan Region military and humanitarian cooperation was achieved.

Given the Staggering Costs and Suffering Imposed by the War, Recovery and Stability in Mosul Will Only Be Possible with Redoubled Efforts by Iraqis and the International Community

  • In the coming months, the Iraqi government, with international support, must provide for Iraqis' basic needs, fulfill the requirement for safety and security, and lay the groundwork for resolving the political drivers of conflict in a sustainable manner.
  • Without a practicable scheme for progressively addressing these fundamental issues, along with increased efforts by the Iraqi government, the coalition, and humanitarian actors, there is good reason to expect that another wave of violence could ensue in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq in a matter of months.
  • Key gaps and problems that need to be addressed in Mosul and among those displaced from it include: acute food insecurity and insufficient access to healthcare, inadequate protection procedures at emergency camps, heavy mine hazards left by ISIS in civilian areas, insufficient numbers and training of hold forces and police, destroyed infrastructure, degraded public services and utilities, grievances among local communities, and insufficient plans for immediate governance in Ninewa Province.
  • Full recovery in Mosul, as in Iraq's other conflict-affected areas, will likely take a decade or more, given the levels of physical destruction and wounds to the social fabric in communities.

Stability in Iraq, and Resulting Stability Elsewhere in the Middle East, Depends on Active Leadership and Financial and Technical Support from the United States, Other Coalition members, the neighboring Gulf States, and the United Nations System

  • A set of targeted steps can create a foundation for and momentum toward these goals.
  • Without fast progress in these fundamental areas, Iraq risks devolving once again into instability, with resulting implications for the security of Iraq's neighbors and allies.


  • Address acute food, water, and medical shortages.
  • Regularize screening and freedom of movement for IDPs.
  • Promulgate and begin to implement a safe IDP return policy.
  • Expand the scope and pace of explosive hazard mitigation.
  • Ensure adequate hold forces in cleared areas.
  • Double throughput of police training.
  • Restore public services and establish a process to resolve property disputes.
  • Improve confidence in Ninewa governance.
  • Implement decentralization law.
  • Improve public finance and public management.
  • Expand and coordinate local reconciliation programs.
  • Jump-start national reconciliation with a road map and a group of friends.
  • Accelerate funding.
  • Increase transparency and accountability of funding.

Read the full report.