A year after Kuwait conference, Iraq is no closer to reconstruction
The official proclamation of the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) was loudly celebrated throughout Iraq and even in Washington but a place untouched by such optimism is Mosul and its surrounding cities, which are now mountains of post-war rubble.
France pledged 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion) to help Iraq’s reconstruction when French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Baghdad January 14. The French gesture comes almost one year after donor countries pledged $30 billion to rebuild Iraq.
Pledges at the International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, last February in Kuwait, have fallen short of delivering the turnaround or urban renewal of neighbourhoods, green spaces and mosques as existed prior to ISIS’s capture of Iraq’s second largest city.
The pledges, proposed by the assembly of representatives from 76 countries and global institutions, have translated into very little on the ground. Doubts over the disbursement of funds and execution of projects remain high.
Beyond platitudes and requests for assistance to generate the $88 billion required, Baghdad has not responded to the lack of deliverance. Its allies, however, have been irrepressibly vocal about rebuilding the country. Turkey reiterated its preparedness to “contribute to infrastructure” in Iraq, the European Union pledged more than $450 million and Jordan expressed hope of breathing life back into its own construction sector by vying for contracts alongside Baghdad’s favoured foreign associates.
Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed al-Hakim volunteered to establish an interagency committee to oversee the management of the $30 billion raised and to rally investors from across the globe.
The committee is either laying low or has had no projects to oversee as more of Mosul’s features fade into debris as was the fate of Mosul’s seven-storey building — one of the lost gems designed by renowned architect Rifat Chadirji. Other heritage sites, some dating to the ninth century, may follow suit without the dedicated will to breathe life into dilapidated structures.
Like its fall, Mosul’s “victory” ushers in new dangers and old actors.
Armed groups are eager to control any cash flow in these areas.
Foreign firms are eyeing contracts and tenders, that — as has become the unofficial norm — are sealed with colossal kickbacks and bribes. Another concern is the feasibility of conducting business in a context where no local authority exists and where security is not guaranteed, as shown by insurgents who carry out sporadic attacks in nearby Kirkuk.
Militias drawn from Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) control important routes into the city, policing every product and body that pass through. This is a battleground that donors are in no position to navigate or contest.
It is unclear when the responsibility for Mosul will be handed to a new Mosul police force. One source inside the old city said “local and small businesses are at a greater risk now, harassed or extorted by forces belonging to the [PMF] forced to pay taxes for sufficient protection and back-up.”
Funding mobilised by the World Bank reconstruction project in 2015 has contributed only modestly to small projects in war-devastated territories, mainly the rebuilding of bridges, basic infrastructure and connectivity.
Mosul’s airport, residential districts, market squares and hospitals were all crushed under the weight of the war on ISIS but few allocations within the Iraqi budget for this year offer safeguards that these areas receive the attention they desperately need.
Big promises have yielded intangible outcomes, espousing wide distrust in the next phase of Iraqi reconstruction. Also under suspicion are the motives of Kuwait. It has demanded the resumption of reparation payments from Iraq over damages incurred as a result of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait 28 years ago.
In November, the UN Compensation Commission announced an outstanding sum of $4.5 billion that Iraq is expected to pay. Kuwait has not published a detailed breakdown of the pledges or their terms, which were presented at the summit.
Many of the pledges were in the form of loans from the World Bank, the European Union and others but offered at enormous interest rates. The quick-fix solution such loans offer will, however, hold Iraq’s future ransom.