January 07, 2018

Iraqis now reckon with the high cost of defeating ISIS

The price of liberation in areas that were under ISIS control appears to be much higher than initially thought.
An Iraqi boy carries a little girl on his back in the Old City of Mosul

London - Iraqis are gradually learning the full costs of defeating the Islamic State (ISIS), whether material or incurred on hu­man lives, as the dust of war settles.

Baghdad declared victory over ISIS last month after Iraqi forces regained large areas of the coun­try from ISIS. It had seized the ter­ritory in 2014.

More than half of Iraqis dis­placed by conflict have returned to their homes but nearly one-third of them are reported to have found their houses had been sig­nificantly damaged or destroyed, the UN migration agency said.

At the end of December, more than 3.2 million displaced Iraqis had gone home and 2.6 million were yet to return, the Interna­tional Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

“The retaking of areas by the Iraqi forces is significant, as is the improvement of security,” said IOM communications officer San­dra Black. About 60% went back to housing that was moderately damaged.

Other infrastructure has also been drastically affected and resi­dents in some areas have no water or power supplies.

More than 1 million Iraqis re­turned home to the Sunni-ma­jority western province of Anbar, from which Iraqi forces expelled the last ISIS militants late last year.

More than one-third of those internally displaced are in the northern province of Nineveh af­ter tens of thousands fled Mosul during the months-long military campaign to retake it.

Not all areas cleared from ISIS are free from attacks. ISIS mili­tants killed 45 people near the Iraqi town of Hawija in the nearly three months since the govern­ment declared it had been liber­ated.

The price of liberation in areas that were under ISIS control ap­pears to be much higher than ini­tially thought. Estimates suggest as many as 11,000 people were killed in Mosul, a civilian casualty rate nearly ten times higher than previously reported.

The number killed in the 9-month battle to liberate the city from ISIS has not been ac­knowledged by the US-led coali­tion, the Iraqi government or the self-styled caliphate but Mosul’s gravediggers, its morgue workers and the volunteers who retrieve bodies from the city’s rubble are keeping count.

Iraqi or coalition forces are re­sponsible for at least 3,200 civil­ian deaths from air strikes, artil­lery fire or mortar rounds from October 2016 and the fall of ISIS in July 2017, said an Associated Press (AP) investigation that cross-ref­erenced independent databases from non-governmental organisa­tions.

The AP analysed information from Amnesty International, Iraq Body Count, Airwars database and a UN report. The AP also ob­tained a list of 9,606 people killed during the operation from Mosul’s morgue. Hundreds of dead civil­ians are believed to be buried in the rubble.

Most of those victims were simply described as “crushed” in health ministry reports.

The coalition, which said it lacks resources to send investiga­tors into Mosul, acknowledges re­sponsibility for 326 deaths.

Approximately one-third of the casualties died in bombard­ments by the US-led coalition or Iraqi forces, the AP analysis said. Another third of the dead were killed in ISIS’s final frenzy of vio­lence. It could not be determined which side was responsible for the deaths of the remainder, who were cowering in neighbourhoods battered by air strikes, ISIS explo­sives and mortar rounds from all sides.

Since Mosul was declared lib­erated in July, residents have submitted more than 3,000 miss­ing-persons reports to Nineveh’s provincial council. Most of them are for men or teenage boys. Some were arrested by ISIS during the group’s rule; others were detained by Iraqi forces on suspicion of ex­tremist ties.

Iraqi government bureaucracy, inefficiency and neglect have left thousands of families across Iraq in limbo as the country’s leader­ship celebrates the defeat of ISIS.

Some 20,000 people are being held at detention centres across Iraq on suspicion of ties to ISIS, a recent report from Human Rights Watch stated.

Iraqi government estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild cities and towns dam­aged during more than three years of war against ISIS.

Leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by ISIS, said that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone. So far, however, no one is offering to foot the bill.

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