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As the battle against ISIS shifts from the battlefield to the shadows, Iraqis are preparing for the next stage in what some are saying will be a generational war against ISIS. The loss of territory has led ISIS to conduct insurgent operations, leading to a string of suicide attacks, car bombings, and kidnappings across Iraq. In the Nineveh Plains, a predominantly Christian region, the Nineveh Protection Unit has now shifted its focus to train soldiers in security and intelligence gathering. Preparing for the next phase of the war against ISIS has left some families worried that the worst is yet to come.

09/19/2017 Iraq (VOX) – The atmosphere at the Classy Hotel in Erbil, Iraq, has changed dramatically over the past two months. In July, as the Iraqi army stormed the ISIS stronghold of Mosul some 60 miles away, bands of roving war reporters lugged flak jackets and camera gear through the mahogany-veneered lobby while frontline aid coordinators nervously guzzled coffee between long shifts.

That’s changed since Iraqi forces completed their reconquest of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in July after months of bloody fighting. Mosul had been the crown jewel of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate, and its loss was enormous for the terror group.

Now, as ISIS continues to lose ground in both its former fiefdoms in Northern Iraq and Syria and on the front pages of global newspapers, the hotel is quieter. “There’s no one here because there’s no more Mosul crisis,” said Muhammad, the maitre’d, with a laugh as he surveyed the empty place settings.

But while the world’s attention shifts to the nuclear standoff with North Korea, military and political leaders here in Iraq have a blunt warning: The fight against ISIS is far from over, and it may take decades to rout former fighters and their sympathizers from the region.

“We should not be misled into thinking that the liberation of Mosul means the end of ISIS or the end of terrorism,” Falah Mustafa Bakir, the foreign minister for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), told me in an interview. “This will be a long-term fight, and it may be a generational fight.”

Fighting ISIS on the battlefield is one thing. Fighting it in the shadows is something else entirely.

ISIS, the terrorist group that charged across Northern Syria and Iraq in 2014, attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters who wanted to help build an entirely new nation in the heart of the Middle East that would be governed by their puritanical interpretation of Sunni Islam. But not all of those willing to kill and die for ISIS came from abroad. Instead, many of those who supported the group — or tolerated its fighters — were native-born Iraqi Sunnis.

“The idea is an international phenomenon, but the raw materials are Iraqi,” Muhammad Ihsan, the Kurdish government’s former human rights minister, told me.

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