Please, don't defeat ISIS yet

The push to retake Mosul is not simply a case of the Iraqi Army against the Islamic State; instead, an array of armed groups — each driven by its own parochial interests — are set to wage war there. This alone should give American policy makers pause, because of the threat this situation poses to reconstruction and post-conflict stability.

To offset this problem, the United States hopes to broker preliminary agreements between the combatant groups in the Mosul campaign. So far, these efforts have yielded little. For example, there is no consensus on how to determine which civilians joined the Islamic State willingly, which cooperated for protection, or which were not involved at all. There is no protocol on how to prevent acts of retribution between communities, and no guarantee that the militias the United States wants excluded from the campaign would remain on the sidelines.

In the absence of any effective chain of command, it seems unlikely that rules of engagement will be adhered to. With no one to enforce compliance and accountability, parties are more likely to cheat on previous commitments. One of the few beliefs that Iraqis across the sectarian divide share is that the United States will soon disengage completely from their country.