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Between Iraq and a Hard Place

What Comes After Mosul

An Iraqi soldier walks through dust in a village outside Mosul, November 2016. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

On October 31, Iraqi government forces finally entered Mosul, the last major stronghold in Iraq occupied by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). The battle marked a decisive shift in a two-year offensive to erode ISIS’ stubborn hold over swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Retaking Iraq’s second-largest city, which ISIS overran in June 2014, would greatly damage the group’s legitimacy, weaken the viability of its so-called caliphate, and cut off its access to the $425 million in currency reserves it stole from the city’s central bank. Now, with the city almost surrounded and Iraqi forces entering its eastern suburbs, Mosul is not far from liberation.

But as U.S. coalition forces begin their advance on Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS’ caliphate in Syria, a far more complex fight awaits them. Unlike in Iraq, where Washington supports the Shiite central government in Baghdad and uses air strikes

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