Mosul is in a race against time. If the central government ignores the basic needs of the population and refuses to reconstruct the badly damaged city, the people of Mosul might once again look to groups that can fill the vacuum.
The stench of death still hangs over western Mosul. It’s been a year since Iraqi forces reclaimed the city; and it remains nearly untouched. No one knows how many bodies are still under the rubble or how many improvised explosive devices are left. Mine clearance teams are only starting to go through the mess.
The small alleyways in the Old City are riddled with debris. The Great Mosque of al Nouri still sits desecrated and little has been done to revive the infrastructure. Many displaced who try to come home, either go back to camps, or stay in eastern Mosul – if they can find a place with family or friends. The urban battles broke the historical city apart and its recovery is far from over.
It’s becoming more difficult for Iraqis to move forward, particularly as politicians scramble over vote recounts. The indifference to public needs—like rebuilding homes, jobs, health services, electricity and water—are creating dissent across the country.
In Basra, south of Baghdad, for example, protests erupted last weekend over corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services. Witnesses said Iraqi police shot at least four protesters and the government attempted to block social media to disrupt communications, but its effect was minimal. Iraqis are frustrated and demanding basic services - all of which have been lacking.
Prime Minister Haider al Abadi did say he would release funds for Basra’s services, but it’s a small gesture and places like Mosul and Anbar, hit hardest by the war against Daesh need the most help.
Don't build it, and they will come
Without serving people’s basic needs to recover and heal, the government ultimately creates a new vacuum, which could rebirth, a new Daesh. This is crucial.
But the problems go even deeper. Government officials don't put enough money into education programs. Thousands of young people are on the streets, selling water and candy or washing windows. They’re not in school. They are not in a home they can call their own. They’re impressionable and easy to recruit for militias eager to protect their own communities because most Iraqis still don’t feel safe.
Increasingly, the roads between Mosul and Baghdad are becoming more dangerous. In Kirkuk, a hotly contested and oil rich province, reports of kidnappings have surfaced. According to the Popular Mobilisation Units, a mostly Shia paramilitary force sanctioned by Baghdad, alleged members of Daesh have set off explosions, set up fake checkpoints and kidnapped civilians.
Issues like economic and education disparity as well as a lack of security contributed to Daesh’s expansion in Mosul in the first place. Not long after the Iraqi government declared victory – one woman shared with me why her husband joined the armed group because Iraqi security forces were harassing their daughters. Even Army General Najm al Jabouri admitted before 2014, there were “problems with security forces” who did not “establish trust with the people” and because of this, it created room for Daesh to take over the city in just four days in 2014.
Iraqi and international coalition forces carried out the battles that followed – and the PMU established their role after, ironically, Shia religious leaders called on fighters to protect their communities.
Since last year, the PMU have been recognised and integrated as part of Iraq’s security forces. And the US is working with PMU forces along the Iraq–Syria border. They’re initiating air strikes on Daesh locations inside Syria. But the damage done from air strikes and heavy weaponry in Mosul won’t see any reconstruction, any time soon.
The war took a toll on the people. Frustrated there hasn’t been more help from international players, displaced Iraqis—who account for over two million in the country—are desperate and many have said they want to leave for good. They don’t foresee a better future, they don’t feel safe and their homes are gone.
So they’re looking to go to Europe, even holding out hope for the US, despite President Donald Trump’s troubling policy to outright reject refugees from several Muslim-majority countries.
And the US has pulled out of reconstruction efforts, committing instead to give money directly to religious minorities, like the Yazidis and Christian communities, who don’t feel any safer than their majority Muslim counterparts.
Even more disturbing is that the US committed to giving money to private investors and contractors in the country rather than the Iraqi government. The cost to rebuild has been estimated at $88 billion. But these funds have not yet been raised.
The World Bank also indicated in their report that Iraq has not made “speedy progress” in addressing “critical” issues facing reconstruction. They have not worked to reduce violence or increase security. And during the elections in the country, while politicians were promising security as a major part of their platform, the dangers around the country were noly increasing.
And the ideology still remains, and has room to flourish again – if people can’t get back to normality, children back to school, people to their places of worship - where else do they have to turn than to a militia or others who can offer them a way out of their poverty?
It plays on their psyche. If they don’t have what they need, they feel hopeless, if they feel hopeless, they look for someone to give them hope.
Ultimately, if Mosul is going to heal, if they’re going to get their lives back, even on a psychological level, it will take both the Iraqi government—and future leaders, as well as the International community—meeting the basic needs of the most vulnerable.
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