Chaos and neglect slow Mosul’s recovery

“There’s no strategic plan. It’s chaos," said Iraqi lawmaker Mohamed Nuri Abed Rabbo.
Monday 11/02/2019
A legacy of ISIS. A woman walks next to damaged shops in the Old City of Mosul. (Reuters)
A legacy of ISIS. A woman walks next to damaged shops in the Old City of Mosul. (Reuters)

The demolition of a damaged building in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul where the Islamic State (ISIS) used to execute men they said were gay is in its third month.

Homeless boys who hunt for scrap in the remains of the former National Insurance Company building work quicker some days than the lone digger perched on its crumbling carcass.

Two years after the battle in which Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from ISIS, authorities do not have enough equipment to clear rubble littered across the city.

Hundreds of Mosul council’s vehicles were destroyed in fighting or used by ISIS as suicide bombs. Few have been replaced.

Companies hired by the governor on lucrative contracts to make up the shortfall work deliberately slowly or sometimes do not exist, lawmakers and locals said.

Mosul was held by ISIS for three years. Under the militant group’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, homosexuality is a grave sin punishable by death. Rights activists say those executed in the seven-storey insurance building, now reduced to two floors, were often ISIS opponents who were falsely accused.

The digger on top of the building is hired for $300 a day, a labourer at the site said. It often stands idle.

The regional governor denies allegations of fraud and says not enough money is being sent to his office to fund rehabilitation.

Many residents are struggling financially. Families forced to build their own homes go into debt, borrowing from friends and living off charity. Others cram into increasingly expensive rented homes. Foreign-funded projects also suffer delays.

“There’s no strategic plan. It’s chaos,” lawmaker Mohamed Nuri Abed Rabbo said.

Poor planning allows mismanagement of reconstruction efforts and alleged corruption, making recovery slow and haphazard. Residents fear the remnants of ISIS will exploit resentment.

“The city’s being rebuilt only on paper,” said Abu Ali Neshwan, a 52-year-old shopkeeper. “There’s no state here. Corruption is everywhere.”

Abdelsattar al-Hibbu, in charge of the municipal government — and is still recognised by Baghdad as such, despite the governor’s attempts to remove him — said the little money allocated to Mosul was being misspent.

“With the amount spent so far on removing rubble, the city could have been completely cleared by now,” he said by telephone. Of an estimated 7 million tonnes of debris, more than half remains, he said.

Hibbu warned last year that there was simply not enough money to rebuild.

The 2019 state budget allocates $560 million for Mosul’s reconstruction, two Mosul lawmakers said. A UN adviser in the city said one estimated cost for one year of rebuilding work was $1.8 billion.

“It’s mostly international organisations getting things done. It’s ridiculous that money has to come from outside, with Iraq’s oil wealth,” the adviser said. “Authorities overspend and work takes ages. It should take a few days at most to demolish a large building and cost a few thousand dollars, tops.”

Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan, governor of Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, dismissed allegations of mismanagement and overspending.

“Clearing rubble is not being done haphazardly… but there are some neighbourhoods that are so destroyed that there’s no solution,” he said. “People shouldn’t be asking why (reconstruction) is slow. They should be asking why hurry it?”

The clearance work looks anything but organised. Grubby children, who outnumber workmen, load steel rods and window frames onto donkey-drawn carts to sell at scrap yards.

Wheelbarrows are displayed outside shops for residents wanting to do their own work.

Some Mosul families are rebuilding by themselves. Younes Hassan, 67, borrowed $9,000 from friends to rebuild his purple-walled home at the highest point of the Old City, overlooking a bank of the Tigris River strewn with rubble.

“We’ve borrowed everything. There’s no money from the government and certainly no bank loans,” he said.

Bank transfers to Mosul, which was a Sunni Islamist stronghold even before ISIS arrived, are banned by authorities over fears over the financing of extremists.

“Ten people live here but my daughter hasn’t come back yet. She’s renting in east Mosul for $100 a month that she can’t afford,” Hassan said.

Hassan’s family is among those returning to west Mosul, which suffered the worst damage from air strikes in its crowded Old City streets.

Nearly 2 million Iraqis are still displaced by the fight against ISIS, a survey by the NGO REACH stated. Many say they are not ready to go home because of the destruction and lack of services.

Residents say they worry that the longer it takes to fix Mosul, the easier it will be for groups such as ISIS to re-emerge and recruit. Conditions that helped ISIS take over Mosul and other cities in 2014, including corruption and the neglect of Sunni Muslim communities by a Shia-dominated government, remain.

A policeman manning a makeshift checkpoint said he worried most for the children picking around in the rubble.

“They’ll be the next generation of ISIS — it thrives on corruption and chaos,” he said.

(Reuters)