Iraqi security forces celebrating after they retook the key town of Qayara, south of Mosul Credit: Uncredited/AP Photo

Isil fighters standing guard at a checkpoint in Mosul in June 2014 Credit: STRINGER/WHEAT REUTERS

Isil may soon be driven out of its last stronghold in Iraq. But then what?

The US, the UK and their coalition allies are spending billions of dollars on military operations against the Islamic State (Isil), and hundreds of millions on humanitarian aid to help people fleeing the militant group and the conflict.
As a result, Iraqi forces, backed by the coalition, are making faster progress than anyone expected in preparations to recapture Isil's stronghold in Iraq, the city of Mosul. But the funding dedicated to reconciliation efforts that might ensure that such recaptured areas can stay that way over the long term? As of July, just $1.5 million.
Now is the time to dedicate more attention and resources to making sure successful military and humanitarian assistance for Iraq isn’t squandered, requiring American, British and other international forces to return yet again in a few years because, while we might have helped Iraqis win the war, we failed to help them secure the peace. Britons and continental Europeans have seen the consequences: a flood of refugees from Iraq alongside other war-torn countries that is putting immense pressure on Europe and appears to have contributed to the Brexit decision.
Today, as Iraqi and allied forces prepare to retake Mosul, it is imperative to do the hard work of preparing for peace before the main military action is launched. Mosul once was home to a complex mosaic of tribes and ethnic groups. Since taking over the city, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has laid waste to communities, creating profound wounds within families and across society. Any euphoria about a liberated Mosul will quickly devolve into recrimination, blood feuds and the spectre of sectarian violence.
The Iraqi government and the coalition estimate that as much as half of Iraqi territory once controlled by Isil has been recaptured, some of it more than a year ago. Despite these gains, less than a quarter of the four million people displaced have returned to those areas.
Strategic, long-term engagement, a greater focus on reconciliation and getting the politics right could finally consolidate the peace. This is not a pipe dream. The US and Europe have enormous strategic interests in Iraq, and they still have leverage.
Efforts to address the societal, political and economic roots of violent conflict have paid off in other parts of Iraq. In the area of Tikrit in 2014, for example, Isil massacred 1,700 mostly Shia Iraqi army cadets and soldiers from a nearby military base known as Camp Speicher. In early 2015, when the area was recaptured from Isil, Sunni residents fled amid the fighting and fears that they would be unfairly blamed for the massacre and become the targets of revenge attacks.

Through careful analysis and exhaustive mediation, a group of Iraqi facilitators brought Sunni and Shia tribal leaders together for intensive dialogue over several months in advance of the military operation that recaptured Tikrit. The talks led to an agreement that helped address demands for justice and outlined critical elements of a sustainable peace. Ultimately, some 300,000 people returned to the city and the surrounding province, accounting for a third of all returns to liberated areas of Iraq.
Similar negotiations, also led by local leaders with the international community in a supporting role, have worked elsewhere in the country. Some connect local leaders with the national government in Baghdad in constructive ways that can contribute to more inclusive governance that is essential to forestall the deep disaffection that opened the way to Isil’s onslaught in the first place.
At our peril do we only fight the military battle and offer only humanitarian salve, while leaving the deeper causes of violent conflict to sprout anew—and draw us all in again.

Nancy Lindborg is the president of the US Institute of Peace based in Washington, D.C. She will be delivering the annual John Garnett Lecture at the Royal United Services Institute