Iraq marks one year since victory against ISIS
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi on Monday (December 10th) marked a year since his country declared victory over the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) by pledging to fight corruption next.
A year ago, his predecessor, Haider al-Abadi, announced the conclusion of a three-year battle to oust ISIS, putting an end to the group's self-proclaimed "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq.
It was "the biggest victory against the forces of evil and terrorism", Abdel Mahdi said Monday, speaking at a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence.
He said Iraq could now turn to a host of other challenges, including hundreds of thousands of people still displaced, widespread unemployment and corruption.
"The final victory we hope for is achieving our people's ambitions and hopes," he said.
"Corruption was and remains one of the many faces of ruin and terrorism. If we do not eliminate corruption, our victory will be lacking," he added.
In a congratulatory note on social media, Iraqi President Barham Saleh said Monday marked "the anniversary of victory over the ugliest criminal assault that history has seen".
"Our heroes achieved military victory at a high price, giving us the duty to achieve the final victory with a political, social, and cultural win," he said.
ISIS, which traces its roots to al-Qaeda in Iraq, swept across a third of Iraq in 2014 and overran the northern city of Mosul, making it its de facto capital.
For three years, Iraqi forces, paramilitary units, and international coalition forces waged a brutal fight to oust the group, finally recapturing Mosul in June 2017.
In the early hours of last December 9th, al-Abadi announced victory over ISIS, and the following day was declared a national holiday.
To mark the one-year anniversary on Monday, checkpoints and military vehicles across Baghdad were decorated with balloons.
The government said it would reopen part of the high-security Green Zone, home to key official offices, for five hours each evening starting Monday.
But beyond the celebrations, the country remains mired in crisis.
Parliamentary elections in May produced no clear ruling coalition, with political divisions paralysing Abdel Mahdi's efforts to fill key cabinet positions.
"Lacking both a political and a popular base, Abdel Mahdi has found himself hostage to the very vested interests and political forces that Iraqis hoped his government would stand up to," said Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute.
"The prolonged government formation process has had far too much business-as-usual for a population that was expecting -- indeed demanding -- a new start following the territorial defeat of ISIS," Haddad said.
Abdel Mahdi's pledge to stamp out corruption is identical to the one made by al-Abadi when he announced the win against ISIS last year.
The challenges extend beyond the political. Much of the country remains in ruins, including large swathes of the north, as authorities struggle to gather funds to rebuild.
More than 1.8 million Iraqis are still displaced, many languishing in camps, and 8 million require humanitarian aid, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.