Mosul yet to begin a long process of recovery
London- Iraq’s capture of Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) control ended a 3-year period of torment for the city’s residents but the process of recovery has yet to start.
Many residents are looking for loved ones, suspected to be buried under rubble that has yet to be cleared. Workers at morgues, whose refrigerated sections are filled with bodies, struggle to identify and bury the dead.
An estimated 90% of western Mosul’s infrastructure was destroyed during the campaign to dislodge ISIS. Only one bridge remains to allow people to travel between western Mosul and the better-off eastern side. Approximately 70% of private property in the western side was reportedly destroyed.
Iraqi officials have yet to clear the numerous booby traps left by ISIS in western Mosul’s houses, schools and mosques. Many residents are not holding their breath as normalcy has failed to return to other areas of Iraq that were cleared of ISIS and the militants’ hidden bombs.
Among the most pressing needs of Mosul’s residents are shelter, food and medical attention. There is a need to resume vital services and begin the costly process of reconstructing the city.
Dealing with the immense level of psychological trauma inflicted upon citizens is also important but has yet to be taken into consideration. The brutal rule of ISIS is responsible for much of the trauma but the military campaign to oust the militants also resulted in many civilian casualties and considerable mental agony.
There are also concerns that abuses may have been carried out by Iraqi forces against people suspected to be linked to ISIS. The Iraqi government promised to investigate such abuse allegations, describing them as “individual acts,” but rights observers said they were not assured.
“Despite repeated promises to investigate wrongdoing by security forces, Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi has yet to demonstrate that Iraqi authorities have held a single soldier accountable for murdering, torturing, and abusing Iraqis in this conflict,” read a statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Iraqi officers, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press (AP), acknowledged that their troops killed unarmed ISIS suspects in acts of revenge but argued that international law should not be applied in the war against the militants.
Indeed, many suspected militants have been detained and sometimes killed without being convicted of terrorism in Iraqi courts. Some Iraqis justified the extrajudicial killings by arguing that Iraqi courts were corrupt and that suspects could be freed by paying bribes.
There are fears, however, that punishing suspects who have not been convicted of wrongdoing could further incite sectarian strife, which spiked in the country following the 2003 US-led invasion.
If such abuses continue, “all you’re going to see is (that) young Sunni Arab men are going to want to join whatever the next extremist group looks like,” Belkis Wille, Iraq researcher with HRW, told the AP.
Social media are awash with videos purporting to show abuses committed by both ISIS and rogue Iraqi forces but, to keep the peace, the Shia-dominated government would be pressed to show that it treats all citizens equally.
“Such footage, which seemingly hypocritically showcases Iraqi soldiers using this battle to not only continue to abuse the civilian population but also stoop to ISIS’s level when doing so, only further inflames the tensions ISIS thrives in,” wrote Wille in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post.
Calming Sunni-Shia tensions, however, is not the only challenge Iraq faces amid sharpening divisions among the country’s politicians.
Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), announced he was stepping down from his leadership role in the major Shia political party, following a long-standing dispute with some of its members. Three senior members of SCIRI have left the party over the past year following reported disagreements with Hakim on the direction of the party.
Hakim said he will form a new party, called the National Wisdom Movement, which he said would be more inclusive of Iraq’s other components. “We need a new movement to present national projects,” Hakim said in a televised statement.
The move is viewed as an attempt by Hakim to attract votes for his new party in April’s parliamentary elections because many Iraqis have expressed discontent with the SCIRI’s pro-Iran stances.
Hakim, who enjoys good ties with Kurdish politicians, also expressed strong opposition to the referendum on the future of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. An independence referendum is to be called by Kurdish authorities on September 25. The move has been rejected by the whole region, except for Israel, he said.