Leader comment: Winning hearts and minds is the key to Mosul’s future

Iraqis from near Mosul carry a white flag as they approach security forces who liberated their village from Islamic State. Picture: AFP/Getty

Iraqis from near Mosul carry a white flag as they approach security forces who liberated their village from Islamic State. Picture: AFP/Getty

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The eyes of the world are on Mosul where Islamic State are fighting to maintain their stronghold as government troops move in from the south and get closer by the hour.

With dramatic television footage from within the city of the life-and-death battles between the warring factions, and of the advancing troops, it is easy to be distracted from yet another flood of refugees seeking safety.

But while aid agencies may be experienced in what they do, even they cannot cope with the sheer numbers involved - at least 5,000 men, women and children have fled their homes in Mosul and crossed the border into Syria in the last 10 days.

They are now attempting to provide makeshift homes for their families in the al-Hol refugee camp which was meant to give refuge to 7,500 people but currently holds over 9,000.

Save the Children says the camp currently has only 16 latrines, with human waste littering the ground. The site also has no clean running water for the refugees to drink or cook with.

While the camp is being expanded to take 50,000 people, the biggest focus now must be on what we can do to ensure that the people living in the camp, and others like it, are treated with dignity and respect.

The UN has said it is expecting at least 200,000 people to flee Mosul in the next few days or weeks as the city comes under increasing attack, and head for camps being constructed in the north, south and east of the city. Given the huge numbers that have been forecast, we should be preparing to help this tide of people who will be living in tents during the winter and most likely for some time to come.

But this is not just a humanitarian crisis which should appeal to our conscience to ensure that each individual in the camp is treated properly and given more than just the basics of survival.

It should be at the forefront of our minds that many of these people will return to Mosul and will take with them the memory of what life was like there.

This is an opportunity to win the hearts and minds of young and old alike. Among the thousands of people in the camp will be impressionable young men and women, fired by a sense of injustice. While their older relatives may be more schooled in the realities of war, the young still have the potential to make up their own minds by what they see in front of them.

After Mosul is taken, these people need to have affinity with the west and believe it acted to help them in their time of greatest need.

If the camps are filled with horror for these people we will not have them on our side, leaving a vacuum which could be filled by IS.

There are massive military operations which could be utilised to get aid to the camps.

The UK’s Iraq War Enquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, found that one of the major failings was the failure to prepare for the future, for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Let’s not fail again this time.

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