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Reconstruction is key in post-war Iraq

03 Apr 2017

As predicted in the last MSF Humanitarian Bulletin the battle for Mosul continues to exact a tragic human toll. The fighting has killed an unknown number of civilians and has forced many thousands to flee, when they can, to the retaken outskirts or nearby villages.

However, there appears to be little appetite in Washington and from other international donors to fund a third big reconstruction era for Iraq’s ongoing second war. This neglect and precarious conditions leave residents of Fallujah and Ramadi without basic humanitarian and reconstruction aid, and might exacerbate feelings among residents of these and other battle scarred cities in Western Iraq that they are being marginalised by the government.

  • The overall estimated sum needed to reconstruct Anbar province post-ISIS (where Fallujah and Ramadi are located) will be US$22 billion, with estimated costs for reconstruction in Ramadi requiring as much as US$10 billion in emergency funding.
  • In Mosul, three times larger than Ramadi, reconstruction costs in the urban areas alone could rise into the tens of billions of dollars.
  • Currently there is an estimated of over 3 million internally displaced Iraqi, with further future internal displacements expected from the fight to retake Mosul. UN estimates it will require $184 million to provide humanitarian aid for people affected by displacement.

The battle continues

As of 2 April, the International Organisation for Migration identified a cumulative total of 302,430 (50,405 families) displaced as a result of the Mosul operations that started on 17 October 2016. “Displaced people have endured two years of the so-called Islamic State (IS) occupation of their town or villages, airstrikes, Iraqi forces fighting IS, fleeing for their lives and arriving in a displaced persons camp”, says Bilal Budair, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mental health manager in Erbil. “These people had to leave very quickly, taking nothing with them. And now they find themselves confined in a camp.” For example, some 30,000 people are living in camps in Hassansham and Khazer, 35 kilometres east of Mosul. Since November, patients consulting MSF services are much more badly affected. Many tell us they were witness to public executions in the market and had seen corpses of murder victims strung up and left for days on end on bridges over the river.

Slow reconstruction

The struggle for survival amidst the terror or war in Iraq is not confined to Mosul. More than seven months after Iraqi forces retook Fallujah from IS, reconstruction is slow and the government risks alienating those residents who have returned to the city. A large number of homes were destroyed by the fighting, being about 10 per cent inhabitable, and several neighbourhoods are still off-limits to civilians due to the possible presence of booby-traps planted by IS in their retreat. The central government in Baghdad has promised to enable the speedy return of Fallujah residents, who were all displaced during the reconquest of their city, but the government is cash-strapped and international efforts remain focused in Mosul.

Similarly, during the battle for Ramadi, which was liberated in February 2016, over 80 per cent of the city was destroyed. Once a thriving city of around 500,000, since mid-2014 one out of every three structures has been damaged, with 2,000 completely destroyed. According to UN and provincial assessments, all water, electricity, medical, and sewerage systems suffered moderate-to-severe damage, along with the city’s bridges, government buildings, schools, and hospitals. When IS militants retreated a dense web of improvised explosive devices and booby traps was left behind. Aid organisations estimate that it will take decades to clear this ordnance.

Waiting to fill the void

The US-backed Coalition has been focused only on eliminating IS, but not the other insurgent groups which are waiting to fill the void left by IS. These groups have publicised their intent to revive a resistance movement against the Iraqi state. Political instability amidst the ruins of war continues to provide fertile ground for new insurgencies to take root. Without a more serious attempt to unify communities through addressing their significant basic needs the problem of Iraqi instability will not be solved with the defeat of IS.

The US Government has provided US$1.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Iraq since 2014, when IS swept into the northern region. Australia has committed $70 million to the humanitarian response to the Iraq crisis over the same period. A donors’ conference in Washington DC last year raised US$2 billion for humanitarian aid for Iraq overall, including basic stabilisation and ridding areas of the IS’s far-flung improvised explosive devices. The UN has been asked to provide $1.8 billion for similar needs. However, the funding dispersed from these pledges is not keeping up with immediate needs, such as taking care of displaced people, much less funding new housing. Most UN agencies are failing to address the needs in Mosul, let alone other areas like Fallujah and Ramadi. These are signs that Mosul might follow the same inadequate reconstruction path as postwar- Ramadi and postwar-Fallujah. If it does then the work of humanitarians will not be over in Mosul for many years to come.

MSF has worked continuously in Iraq since 2006. For more information about current MSF activities in Mosul watch the following video from Elizabeth Jaussaud, MSF’s Emergency Coordinator, back from working in Mosul in January 2017.

An overview of current MSF activities in Iraq.

In order to ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government or international agency for its programs in Iraq, and relies solely on private donations from the general public around the world to carry out its work.