With thousands of people killed and a million displaced, entire neighbourhoods are ravaged and survivors are in dire need of aid.

The Iraqi government and international donors have a small window of opportunity to rebuild Mosul, a city that witnessed a brutal clash between Iraqi forces and Daesh.
The Iraqi government and international donors have a small window of opportunity to rebuild Mosul, a city that witnessed a brutal clash between Iraqi forces and Daesh.

When journalists and aid workers finally crossed the Tigris river over to the western side of Mosul earlier this month, all they saw was destruction. A city where Daesh made its last stand, using women and children as human shields, Mosul is now the centre of a major humanitarian crisis. Its streets are littered with the burnt frames of cars and remnants of battered houses. The stench of rotting flesh suggest many bodies are still lying under the rubble.

An estimated 40,000 people have been killed since the battle to retake Mosul began in October last year, according to an intelligence report from Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government.

In their determination to eradicate the fighters, US-backed Iraqi forces rained thousands of artillery shells on the city.

Block after block, residential buildings have been turned into wreckage. Hospitals, schools and most of public infrastructure is bombed out.

For now, Mosul's future looks bleak.

Revenge Killings

It was a disturbing sight. A semi-conscious suspected militant being dragged and thrown from the edge of a hill before being shot at with AK47s.

The footage of the incident quickly went viral in the days after the Iraqi government announced the liberation of its second-largest city on July 10.

Footage and pictures of suspected Daesh fighters being tortured have raised concerns about reprisal killings. (AP)
Footage and pictures of suspected Daesh fighters being tortured have raised concerns about reprisal killings. (AP)

The Iraqi authorities promised to deter retaliation against the Sunni majority. But savage massacres carried out by Daesh fighters are still fresh in the memory of Iraqi troops, many of whom come from the families which suffered under their brutality.

Mosul, a predominantly Sunni city, was a bastion of resistance against the central government in Baghdad that was largely under Shia control.

When Daesh swept through northern Iraq in 2014, some locals welcomed them out of frustration.They were fed up of being ill-treated by government forces.

Retaliations risk plunging Iraq back into the sectarian violence that has plagued it since the US invasion in 2003, according to Belkis Wille, an Iraq expert with the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Since 2003, Iraqi forces and mostly Shia non-state and government armed groups have carried out abuses against the civilian population with complete impunity, mainly targeting Sunni Arabs," she wrote in an article for the Huffington Post.

"These experiences no doubt pushed young Sunni Arab men to join extremist groups in Iraq in the past."

Raising the alarm, she says that no Iraqi commander or officer responsible for extrajudicial killings has been held accountable.

Iraq says it could take a decade and $10 billion to rebuild Mosul. (AP)
Iraq says it could take a decade and $10 billion to rebuild Mosul. (AP)

Total destruction

Mosul was home to 1.8 million people before the conflict with Daesh began. An estimated 900,000 people have been displaced. Many of them live in ill-equipped camps or with relatives in other towns and cities.

East Mosul, which was cleared of Daesh much earlier at the beginning of the year, is slowly coming back onto its feet.

Markets have opened and people have started to go about their daily routine, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which sent its observers to examine the situation.

But the western part of the metropolis, where the Old City is located, has been reduced to piles of rubble.

The five bridges that linked the two parts of the historical city are gone. The airport and the railway station no longer exist. Water and electricity infrastructure are defunct.

"Rows of houses and neighbourhoods lie in total ruins as far as the eye can see. The carcasses of cars, reduced to smithereens and still parked in front of the shells of what used to be homes," the IOM said.

"Even stray cats and dogs, which recently used to scurry about these streets and neighbourhoods, have mostly left."

The UN says more than one-fourth of West Mosul's 54 residential districts have been flattened. Nearly 32,000 houses have been reduced to debris in those areas.

In another 23 districts, nearly half the buildings have been destroyed. More than 5,500 buildings have been damaged in the Old City alone.

The fighting did not spare health facilities either. Most parts of a medical city in Mosul that housed several hospitals and laboratories are no longer functional.

Aerial bombardment by the US-led coalition has been blamed for a lot of the destruction. But reports suggest indiscriminate artillery shelling by Iraqi forces is also responsible for much of the damage.

Improvised rockets with crude targeting ability were relentlessly used by the Iraqi government forces. The shelling ripped through buildings, turning the entirety of western Mosul into a hollow shell.

"These weapons wreaked havoc in densely-populated west Mosul and took the lives of thousands of civilians," according to an Amnesty International report. "The true death toll of the west Mosul battle may never be known."

East Mosul, which was taken from Daesh fighters earlier this year, is starting to recover as markets reopen and students start attending the university. (Reuters)
East Mosul, which was taken from Daesh fighters earlier this year, is starting to recover as markets reopen and students start attending the university. (Reuters)

The reconstruction challenge

International financial institutions and donors have warned it might take years for any semblance of normalcy to return to Mosul.

The UN Humanitarian Response Plan had already asked for $985 million to help it take care of civilians affected by the fighting. This amount is for 2017 alone.

The famous Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret are among the many historical sites destroyed during the battle. (Reuters)
The famous Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret are among the many historical sites destroyed during the battle. (Reuters)

For its part, Baghdad says reconstruction will require at least $10 billion over the next ten years, according to Voice of America.

Aid agencies have started to transport immediate necessities such as bottled water and electricity generators to where they are needed. Social workers are also coordinating with locals to identify homes which need immediate repair.

Some of the early repair work can cost at least $5000 a house, Noureldin Qablan, deputy chairman of the council of Nineveh province in which Mosul is located, told Reuters.

"Honestly, we are not getting enough support. What has been allocated to Nineveh in 2017 was $44.5 million (52 billion Iraqi dinars) which is a very small sum for a province this size," Qablan said.

That amount is even less than what provincial authorities were getting before all the destruction.

Outside Mosul, things don't look good in the rest of Iraq either.

Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi finance minister, says $500 million was set aside for rebuilding Mosul. But the government has spent part of that money elsewhere.

A culture of bribery and embezzlement among contractors tasked with rebuilding Iraq has hindered the country's progress and sowed divisions in past. It also impedes the redistribution of aid money to rightful recipients.

A 2013 report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found numerous shady contracts ranging from the construction of a prison in the middle of a desert to selling supplies at exorbitant prices.

Can the spirit of Mosul return?

For many of its residents, Mosul without Jonah's tomb and Al Nuri Mosque is not the city they had known.

Residents who escaped Mosul after Iraqi forces began the offensive last year are still living in tents around the city. (Reuters )
Residents who escaped Mosul after Iraqi forces began the offensive last year are still living in tents around the city. (Reuters )

Daesh demolished the tomb of Jonah, known to Muslims as the Prophet Yunus, in 2014. The site was revered by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. It was the one of the most important monuments in Iraq.

The famous Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret built in the 12th century were also destroyed during the infighting. It was here that Daesh leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi proclaimed the creation of a so-called caliphate in July 2014.

The atrocities carried out by Daesh have left permanent scars on minorities – Christians, Yazidis and Kurds. Those who were able to escape are too scared to go back.

With concerns about Daesh sleeper cells still lingering, it remains to be seen if Mosul can regain its identity as a place where people from different faiths and sects once peacefully coexisted.

The war not only ruined the city's infrastructure, it also ruptured its social fabric. Restoring that will be a long and arduous task.

Source: TRT World