As Iraqi forces advance in their drive to recapture western Mosul from ISIS, the country is entering an election cycle for long-delayed provincial balloting and, ultimately, parliamentary elections. Political reconciliation risks getting lost in sectarian electoral competition, says Sarhang Hamasaeed, the director of Middle East programs at USIP, in a new video. That makes it urgent for the international community to help Iraqis navigate not only the military operation, but also political talks.

Leaders of Iraq’s Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and religious minority communities are willing to engage in dialogue at the national level as well as in local communities, but they need mediation, Hamasaeed says. The timing is urgent. The outcome of the two campaigns — one military, the other political — may determine Iraq’s future.

The successful military operation to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last stronghold for ISIS in the country, has accelerated talk about what happens next. Iraq will need a well-defined program to bring stability after its government regains control over ISIS-occupied territory. That requires political, economic and social lines of effort to consolidate the military gains and lead to a durable peace, Hamasaeed says.

If this opportunity to stabilize Iraq is lost, the country could fall back into the divisions that led to the rise of ISIS, creating fertile ground for further radicalization and violence. 

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