Iraqis now reckon with the high cost of defeating ISIS
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.