21 March 2019
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raq: A Year after Victory, Stability Still a Dream

Friday, 28 December 2018 03:44
This Mosul resident says his children were killed in the airstrike that destroyed his home more than a year ago, but he has had no help in trying to rebuild, Nov. 21, 2018. (H.Murdock/VOA) This Mosul resident says his children were killed in the airstrike that destroyed his home more than a year ago, but he has had no help in trying to rebuild, Nov. 21, 2018. (H.Murdock/VOA)

Standing on what's left of the the roof of his crumbled home, Ahmed, an aging Mosul resident, trembles as he describes the deaths of his three sons. 

A Russian Islamic State militant occupied Ahmed's house last year and a U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeted it. The strike killed the militant, and Ahmed's boys. Now, Ahmed says he cannot afford to rebuild his home for his two surviving children.

"No one gave us a penny or a single dinar," he says. "They gave us nothing. Not an aid organization or the government or anyone. I lost three children here." 

Many parts of the region IS once controlled have been rebuilt, often by home and business owners who survived the war. International organizations, the government and local aid groups are also present, but frustration is growing at the slow pace.

It has been a full year since Iraq declared victory over IS, but as attacks continue, residents say until the city is rebuilt, stability remains a distant dream. 

Entire neighborhoods in Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities, remain flattened, and bodies still rot in the rubble of the Old City.

People who lived in the now-destroyed homes are on their own to rebuild, if they can. And it was exactly this kind of neglect and isolation, according to locals, that allowed IS to thrive in this region in the first place.

 Aid organizations blame the government for the slow pace of reconstruction. Government offices blame each other and say more outside help is needed. 

"Why is no one helping us?" Ahmed asks later in one of the few rooms that still has walls. He points to the remnants of electricity fixtures and water pipes stolen after the airstrikes, and then to a severed leg of the militant who once occupied his house, now mostly just a bone with torn strips of cloth. 

"Why?" he asks again. "Do they want us to join terrorist groups?"

How it happened before 

Extremist insurgents took root in this part of Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted then-dictator Saddam Hussein. 

In response, roads were choked off by a tangle of Iraqi military checkpoints, isolating communities and damaging local economies. In some places, militants bombed government targets weekly. Extremists used the general atmosphere of despair to recruit followers and drive out resistance. 

In 2014, Islamic State militants captured cities, towns and villages across northern and western Iraq in less than a week.

At a small brick garage on a desert road outside Mosul, local car mechanics describe the brief battles as IS entered the city. 

"We didn't know what was happening," says Youseff Toufik, a 34-year-old father of four.

"The militants came in from the desert and fired at the federal police over there," he adds, pointing to Scorpion Junction, the main western checkpoint before entering Mosul city. "The federal police fired back. We were in the middle." 

The early days of IS rule were "very, very good," adds Shalan, 25. They opened the roads, promised strict but benevolent Islamic rule and to end the corruption draining Iraq's resources. 

"But then they changed 180 degrees and started torturing and beheading people," Shalan adds. 

More than two years later in October 2016, Iraq, backed by an international coalition, began a massive offensive against the group. 

IS no longer holds any significant territories, but deadly attacks continue throughout the country. Last month, a school bus rolled over an explosive on a road south of Mosul, killing four children and wounding seven. A car bomb killed three people at a restaurant in the city, and security forces say they still conduct near-daily operations seeking militants in hiding. 

The men say IS may be defeated, but they are far from gone. 

"Five months ago I got a call on my cellphone," Shalan explains. "They said, 'We are coming for you.' "

How it could happen again 

Aid workers estimate a year and a half after the IS defeat in Mosul, roughly 1,500 bodies of militants and civilians are still buried under the crushed buildings. Two million people remain displaced, many unable to return to these destroyed homes. 

Like some other business people, Sarmad Mahfodh, a real estate agent in the Old City, has reopened his shop even as the building appears to be crumbling. The remnants of an old IS hideout — blankets, cassette tape covers and tin dishes — still litter the bombed-out second floor.

People are trying to sell properties here, he says, but no one is buying. People mostly feel safe now, he adds, with Mosul squarely under control of Iraqi forces. He fears if more is not done to rebuild, safety will be fleeting. 

"If the government doesn't provide people with the support they need," he explains, "some people will devise ways to hurt themselves and their country."

What is being done 

When the rebuilding process began in many former IS areas, the destruction was so complete it would have been easier to build neighborhoods from scratch. 

Homes, hospitals, roads, schools and every other kind of infrastructure were destroyed. What remained was often laden with bombs. Millions of people fled their homes and thousands of civilians were killed in the war. 

Damaged homes are eligible for rebuilding assistance through local aid groups and the United Nations, which has nine agencies working on the rebuilding and recovery. Electricity, roads and water pipes are being repaired or installed by government and nongovernmental organizations. 

Local authorities are responsible for much of the infrastructure, according to Mosul Mayor Zuhair Mohsen Al Araji. But funding, he says, comes from the central government in Baghdad, which as of late November had not released any 2018 funds. 

"We submitted all the financial requirements for the province," he explains, "such as electricity, water, sewage and other services, but we never received the required funding." 

Contractors hired by the city this year are all expecting back pay, he says, and there will be nothing left unless Baghdad allocates more funds for reconstruction. 

Small aid groups, private donors and residents are also trying to rebuild, as men with carts of supplies trudge up and down broken roads and lay pipes to connect to new government water supplies.

But as he tours some of the homes in the Old City his organization helped repair, Mohammed Dylan of the local aid group Wasal Tasal for Relief and Development says these combined efforts are not nearly enough to end the suffering in the hardest-hit areas. 

"People are coming back, but this area is still mostly destroyed," he says. "It's not just Mosul, but all the areas IS once held. They are all neglected."

Source: VOA

 

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