There are joyous liberations. Of Paris in 1944, for example—a liberation insurrectionary and exultant. And then there are leaden liberations: Warsaw’s in 1944; Berlin’s in 1945; and, more recently, Sarajevo’s.
The liberation of Mosul obviously falls into the second category.
There is a sense of relief, of course. There is, too, the elation of victory—and, for someone who experienced some of the most terrible phases of the battle from the inside, there is intense emotion.
But, seeing the images of survivors emerging from the city, their faces frightened and drawn from eight months in hell; viewing the field of ruin to which one of the oldest cities in the world has been reduced; reckoning up the numbers of those killed, those displaced, people from whom the Islamic State took everything while losing this war, it is hard not to feel great dismay.
Was it really necessary, first of all, to wait three years before deciding to act? Before launching the assault, did we have to give the enemy time to fortify its positions, to acquire sophisticated weapons, to irrigate terrorist networks abroad, to slaughter and then slaughter some more? When the evidence of horror was as manifest as it was in Mosul, could we not have taken the initiative and killed the serpent’s egg, as Ingmar Bergman urges in one of his finest films?
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