Mosul’s return to normal life remains a distant dream

Displaced Moslawis are eager to return to what is left of their homes in the old city but have been unable to do so.
Sunday 18/03/2018
A view of shops that have reopened in East Mosul. (Oumayma Omar)
Slow recovery. A view of shops that have reopened in East Mosul. (Oumayma Omar)

MOSUL - Most of Mosul’s residents must start from scratch to rebuild their livelihood and homes shattered by the Islamic State’s conquest and the subsequent battle to retake the city.

Thousands of families have returned to Mosul, which had seen half of its population of 2 million displaced, since it was liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS) in July but for many return remains a distant dream.

“An estimated 700,000 people are still harbouring in refugee camps in Mosul’s outskirts and in Irbil in Kurdistan. The majority are inhabitants of the old city in the western part of Mosul, which was completely razed,” said Abdul-Rahman al-Waka’a, a member of the Nineveh Province Council.

“We are looking at a real catastrophe here. More than 112,000 residential units have been ruined in the old city alone, in addition to the total collapse of infrastructure and basic services which necessitate gigantic international efforts to restore.”

Displaced Moslawis are eager to return to what is left of their homes in the old city but have been unable to do so. Eight months after the battle ended, thousands of homes are mere rubble, there is no electricity or running water and decomposing bodies are buried in the debris.

Muthanna Khalaf, a 47-year-old street food vendor, and his family left Hasan Sham refugee camp shortly after Mosul’s liberation but could not live in their bomb-blasted home in the dystopian wasteland of what was once West Mosul. The stench of death wafts from rubble-filled streets, rusting cars and charred homes are rigged with explosives.

“Life at the camp was bitter. We put up with the cold, illness and deprivation,” Khalaf said. “I chose to return after the liberation from ISIS but many people refuse to go back, especially to the old city, because of the remnants of the war and the corpses lying in the rubble of their homes. A few who tried to return to their homes went back to the camps.”

Corpses of suspected ISIS militants, their families and other civilians are under the rubble. Mosul officials said they have recovered more than 2,500 bodies since July 2017 and that many more remain buried. An estimated 9,000-11,000 people, including 3,200 civilians, were killed in the 9-month battle for the city,  the Associated Press reported.

A lack of funds and resources delay the removal of the macabre remnants of the war. The Nineveh Province Council estimated the cost of removing the rubble at $3.5 billion and reconstruction of the old city at $14 billion.

“We need a special budget to remove the rubble and the corpses underneath, in addition to hundreds of unexploded bombs and booby traps that require specialised demining teams to dismantle them,” Waka’a said.

“Reconstruction efforts are very slow, unorganised and arbitrary and the 47 billion dinars ($39.5 million) allocated in the state budget for the development of the province are totally inadequate.”

During a conference for the reconstruction of Iraq in Kuwait last month, Iraq was only able to receive pledges for $30 billion of the $88 billion it said it needs for reconstruction. Rather than donations, most of the pledges were loans and investments.

While West Mosul remains in ruins, East Mosul has been slowly returning to life. The jihadists put up much less of a fight in the East than they did across the Tigris River in the West and damage was relatively quickly repaired.

When Ahmad Serhan’s coffee shop on the Westside was destroyed in the fighting, he opened a new one on the East side. Like other shopkeepers, he paid for repairs and restoration.

“Mosul should be rebuilt and revived by its people. We should not depend on the (central) government or the local authorities because they neither have the money nor the cadres or the equipment to remove the rubble and restore services,” Serhan said.

“Hundreds of families who returned to East Mosul have restored their homes and businesses at their own expenses.”

Despite the shocking destruction, Sindos Hamid, who now lives in Baghdad, said she was thrilled to visit her native city after liberation. “I have been deprived of visiting Mosul and seeing my parents for five years. Luckily, they live in the eastern part, which is coming back to life slowly. Shops and restaurants have reopened and the streets are busy again,” she said.

“However, a lot of things have changed in Mosul. There is something missing. ISIS has destroyed the spirit of the people as well as the heritage of the city, which goes back to hundreds of years,” Hamid added.