Mosul’s battle may be the worst of this century. Mosul did not look like a liberated city as it was severely destroyed and more than 1 million people have been displaced. ISIS’ defeat is certain but the repercussions of the fighting are not over yet. So what will happen after all this destruction which was followed with “liberation celebrations?”
Challenges are still on as first there is the new role of Shiite militias and Sunni Iraqis do not trust one another or Baghdad and are incapable of restoring basic services. The massive destruction of the city during ISIS’ brutal occupation since 2014 and the military attacks which the alliance and Iraqi forces launched for months mean that restoring basic services and infrastructure will not happen quickly.
The Iraqi government said its plan in this phase is to rebuild Mosul and other “liberated” areas over the course of 10 years with $100 billion worth of funding that will come from different sources.
An independent American agency that was established to rebuild Iraq during the American invasion monitored $119.52 billion between April 2003 and March 2008. The US provided $46 billion, Iraq provided $50.33 billion while $15.89 billion came from international support. Despite these huge sums of money, most of it evaporated.
Corruption and theft
Projects were launched but they were either not completed or sabotaged due to corruption and theft. According to several reports, some ministries in Baghdad are now more corrupt than they were during the past years. Many projects were halted and not completed because they were not necessary and because locals did not participate in designing them or constructing them.
More importantly, no serious efforts were made to create harmony between the different local sectarian groups or between tribes, who are mostly Sunnis who felt they were more distant from the central government led by the Shiites in Baghdad.
Unfortunately, nothing shows that the new reconstruction efforts will be any different. The current situation is more challenging as the government will have less money to use. The low oil prices and the increased bureaucracy left the central government in Baghdad with scarce resources. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund did not provide enough to help.
Last year, the IMF gave an urgent loan worth $5.3 billion. At the time it was a huge contribution but it does not do much today.
People in Mosul must not wait for help from Baghdad because it may never come. Perhaps what’s best is to take matters into their own hands and pave way for reconciliationHuda al-Husseini
Violence and instability
Violence and instability will not come to an end soon without reconciliation between the different sectarian groups that are fighting against each other in Mosul – which fought together even when ISIS ruled – and between Sunnis. Many Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds do not believe there is any future while Baghdad’s government is in place.
Unless there is radical change, the areas which were liberated from ISIS will be used to recruit extremist organizations or groups in the future. If this is not resolved, it will simply keep happening. A Sunni official in Fallujah which expelled ISIS last summer said “ISIS did not come from the moon and did not grow out of earth. A part of our people joined ISIS because of corruption, injustice and the culture of hatred.”
What happened in Anbar, where Fallujah is, provides a glimpse of some of the problems which Mosul may confront. Ramadi, the governorate’s capital, is destroyed and it needs $10 billion but the central government has not provided any help to rebuild it. This is also the case of Sinjar, north of Iraq, as it needs $70 million to fix what ISIS destroyed but the Iraqi government only provided $45,000 to remove rubble from roads.
Cultural and ethnic diversity
Mosul was an ethnically mixed city with cultural diversity. Now, however, the Sunni majority must deal with the problem of those sympathizing with ISIS from among it. The government has not proposed a decisive plan to prevent new massacres that Sunnis may commit or to address Shiite militias who aim to achieve their own aims that oppose the Sunnis.
There’s another worrying matter which a report by the New York Times revealed on July 15 about Iran’s domination over Iraq. The report detailed Iran’s increased influence especially on the strategic level and said that Iran’s major aim is to prevent Iraq from threatening it in the future like what happened when it confronted it during the Iraqi-Iranian war in the 1980’s, adding that Iran is also looking forward to use Iraqi territories to establish a Shiite route from Iran and that passes through Iraq and Syria and all the way to Lebanon.
It also said that the general impression is that Iran succeeded in turning Iraq into a “statelet” that revolves around its orbit at the expense of the US. Nouri al-Maliki who aspired to become prime minister again – perhaps to complete the strife he incited – said in Moscow on Monday that he’s interested in Russian presence in Iraq so it balances with other foreign powers. Of course Maliki was not referring to Iran which is Russia’s ally.
Anyway, the report brought up critical points such as the discontent of the Arab state of Iraq from the Persian state of Iran. The report also addressed the Iranian religious system’s weak prospects of solidifying in Iraq although militiamen affiliated with Iran tried to persuade students in universities to embrace the Iranian doctrine.
It also noted that the current Iraqi command strongly desires to achieve a more efficient balance between Washington and Tehran to achieve the sovereign independence of Iraq. We can conclude from the report that America’s concern and participation are vital to contain Iran’s ambitions in Iraq – that is if it’s not too late.
There are also the Kurds and their stance from the central government in Baghdad as they’re getting ready to hold a referendum to become independent in the end of September. It’s expected for the majority to vote in favor of independence. The divisions of Kurdish policies these days and the voters’ pragmatism may make it difficult to achieve any separation quickly. Moreover, countries neighboring Iraq’s Kurdistan will still have an influential voice in how things develop.
There’s the disputed Kirkuk which is ethnically mixed and which is rich in oil. Kirkuk is also reviewing its political options especially that some communities do not want to be part of the Kurdish region while others seek to separate from the Iraqi state.
Some Sunni-majority governorates are attempting to manage their affairs on their own. Although it’s not clear what will happen in Mosul in the Nineveh governorate, the Anbar governorate which suffered under al-Qaeda and ISIS is not waiting for Baghdad or non-governmental international organizations to reopen schools and reform infrastructure.
People there are doing so themselves. It seems that being locally enabled and supervising peace and security were the results of the past years of conflicts and of the government’s weakness in Sunni areas. Sunni leaders have not come up with a formula for political unity.
Therefore, locally enabling people, decentralization, providing services and slowness while establishing trust among Sunni elites are all part of Iraq’s bigger picture. The future partially depends on whether the Sunnis can become a decisive or a destabilizing factor.
People in Mosul must not wait for help from Baghdad because it may never come. Perhaps what’s best is to take matters into their own hands and pave way for reconciliation because murder and counter murder will only resume destroying Mosul, and this is something that neighboring countries hope for.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Huda al-Husseini is a political writer who focuses on Middle East geopolitics.