The Iraq Report: Mosul a dystopian wasteland one year after IS

The Iraq Report: Mosul a dystopian wasteland one year after IS
Our weekly round-up of events in Iraq covers the anniversary of the defeat of the Islamic State group, and protests in Basra.
7 min read
12 July, 2018
The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

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One year ago, the operation to recapture Mosul from Islamic State group militants entered its final stages, days after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had already declared victory against the extremists.

While Abadi attempted to deliver a message of hope, the price Iraqis had to pay to regain their city was steep indeed, with Iraq's second city left in ruins and its people suffering from government neglect to this day.

Iraq's problems also exist in areas outside of the Sunni Arab central and northern plains, however, as the Shia-majority and oil-rich south has exploded in angry demonstrations, leading to at least one protester being killed in Basra.

Iraqis of all backgrounds are frustrated by the lack of progress made by the federal authorities, rampant corruption leading to mass unemployment, and a heat wave coupled with a water crisis that has crippled the crucial agricultural sector. This cocktail of misfortunes could lead to a serious backlash against the ruling political elite that will have far-reaching consequences.

One year after IS, the smell of death lingers over Mosul

On 10 July 2017, Prime Minister Abadi triumphantly declared from the heart of Mosul that the forces of the Islamic State group had finally been defeated and forced out of one of Iraq's most historically important population centres. Abadi promised freedom and liberation from tyranny, and said while his forces were still conducting "mopping-up" operations, the city was now back under Iraqi control.

A year has passed, and the smell of death still lingers in the air, with thousands of bodies still trapped beneath the rubble of the once great city. While it is unclear precisely how many people died in the battle for Mosul - some of the most intense urban warfare since the Second World War - Iraqi Kurdish officials estimate as many as 40,000 could have been killed during the ferocious fighting between IS and federal forces, backed by pro-Iran militants and the US-led coalition.

Volunteer workers are to this day attempting to retrieve the corpses of civilians caught in Mosul's meat grinder and afford them a proper burial. However, a lack of government assistance has meant that bodies have been bloating and decomposing in scorching summer temperatures under the smashed remains of a once bustling city of 2.5 million people. At least 380,000 are still displaced, with many more missing or long since departed.

Part of the wreckage includes the ruins of the centuries-old Grand Nuri Mosque, with its iconic leaning minaret now nothing more than chunks of dust-covered rock.

Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), the international medical charity, confirmed that nine of Mosul's 13 hospitals suffered severe damage and 70 percent of the city's health infrastructure was still "dysfunctional", despite government rule being restored.

The scars of war: Mosul's children haunted a year after IS was routed

The bleak situation has been exacerbated by the fact that little of the rubble and leftover booby-traps have been cleared, and with 90 percent of west Mosul devastated during the battle, many children have been struck by the tragedy of losing their homes and their families. Local charity Orphan Joy claims that almost 3,300 children lost their parents, forcing streams of children into exploitative work conditions, begging and lacking any prospects for a hopeful future.

Mosul's first wedding since the end of the IS occupation was held this week [AFP]

The United Nations and NGOs such as the Norwegian Refugee Council have stated it will cost around $1 billion just to restore basic infrastructure here. It will cost billions more to actually redevelop the city, fully restore services and functioning governance, and bring the city back to being a home for its once-thriving population.

If Mosul's neglect continues, it could serve as a staging ground for radical groups to once more exploit the terrible circumstances of a traumatised population, whipping up feelings of resentment, hatred, and a thirst for vengeance. If Baghdad fails to prioritise these grave concerns, IS may yet experience a revival.

Protests rock Basra after demonstrator killed by police

While Mosul and other cities formerly held by IS represent Iraq's most dire problems, other cities that escaped the war against the extremist group relatively unscathed have recently been bubbling with barely contained fury.

Iraqis in the southern port city of Basra have been demonstrating over the past week against sky high unemployment, foreign workers taking Iraqi jobs in the oil sector, endemic corruption, and a power and water crisis that has also afflicted other parts of the country.

Events took a turn for the worse after security forces used live ammunition against the protesters on Sunday, killing at least one and wounding five others. The victim was identified as 30-year-old Saad Yaqoub al-Mansouri, whose Banu Mansour tribe have called for his killers to be brought to justice and for the chief of security in Basra governorate to be sacked.

Tensions flared on Tuesday as protesters again took to the streets, this time demanding justice for al-Mansouri and renewing their calls for corrupt politicians and civil servants to be dismissed from their posts.

Basra's residents have long complained of unemployment, with official figures for youth unemployment - considered to be those under 24-years-old -at 18 percent, with many Iraqis believing that to be a conservative estimate.

Iraq, meanwhile, has agreements with several oil companies who are allowed to explore and extract oil but must ensure that at least half their workforce are Iraqis. People in the oil-rich south often complain that these rules are rarely enforced, with foreign workers - particularly from neighbouring Iran - claiming the lion's share of the jobs that are supposed to be available to Iraqis.

Iraqis struggle with social anxiety after Islamic State's rule

The New Arab's Arabic language service reported on Thursday that many Iranians come into Iraq using falsified documents that are not scrutinised by border and immigration officials.

Despite being free of Baathist dictatorship for 15 years, Iraq's economy has suffered dramatically under a series of corrupt and inefficient administrations. This trend is set to continue, which will further enflame tensions and could lead to more forceful demonstrations in future.

Iraqi Shia militants set up bases inside Syria

Shia Islamist militants fighting under the banner of the Iran-backed but Iraq-sanctioned Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) have continued to conduct extra-territorial operations in Syria, going so far as to establish 40 permanent bases and outposts on Syrian territory, The New Arab has learned.

Iraqi military officials in Baghdad revealed on Wednesday that PMF units loyal to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had set up "permanent" bases as deep as 30 kilometres inside Syrian territory over the past month. Fighters are based in territories include al-Tanf, the border town of Albu Kamal and the district of Zawiyah, all of which have seen recent heated military action - including a US air assault at al-Tanf last year that destroyed an Assad regime convoy.

Speaking to The New Arab, a military official said the move may have been a retaliation to last month's deadly airstrike against Shia militants that cost them 52 fighters. The PMF initially blamed the US for the attack, but Washington denied conducting the operation and instead pointed the finger at Israel. Tel Aviv remained characteristically silent on its involvement, neither confirming nor denying the allegation.

The heatwave and drought-like conditions have sparked fires across the country. including here in Baghdad, in which a warehouse storing wood and oil supplies went up in smoke [AFP]

The Iraqi government has denied that the PMF had set up bases inside Syria, while stating the umbrella militia only had authority to operate within Iraq's borders. However, various PMF factions have been widely reported fighting inside Syria on behalf of the IRGC and the Assad regime for years.

Ammar al-Khazali, a senior figure in the Iran-linked Iraqi Hizballah, confirmed his group had set up outposts in Syrian territory, but did not state where.

"[The outposts] are a first line of defence against IS movements inside Syria," Khazali told The New Arab in a telephone interview. "The Islamic resistance is pursuing IS pockets and cells inside the neighbouring Syrian territory, and this is our duty."

While it has long been known that the PMF operate in Syria at the IRGC's behest - irrespective of what the Iraqi government has ordered them to do - the establishment of permanent bases inside a foreign country represents a massive escalation in their use of power either at home and abroad.

Official Iraqi government policy is that the PMF is restricted to operating within Iraqi borders as part of the Iraqi armed forces and within its chain of command. However, they are again openly flouting orders publicly issued by the commander-in-chief, Prime Minister Abadi, and are conducting major operations in a neighbouring country under the command of a foreign military force. This is likely to further contribute to fears that the PMF is slowly evolving into an Iraqi version of the IRGC, who have significant military, economic and political power in Iran.

The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

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