ISIS destroyed everything, leaving city in ruin. Old Mosul , September 26, 2019. (Barzan Jabar)

Slow Pace of Rebuilding Mosul Angers Residents

Longtime residents won’t give up on the city despite horrific destruction

More than two years after the liberation of Mosul – the former capital of the so-called Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq – and the defeat of the terrorist group there, the once-bustling city has yet to be rebuilt. The Media Line’s Middle East bureau chief, Mohammad Al-Kassim, reports. (Text to follow.)

The bombardment and fierce street fighting left the city in ruin.

Rafee Al-Ta’e, or Abu Omar, as he’s known in his neighborhood, lived through the time of ISIS’s rule.

“It was a very difficult period. It’s very difficult to forget.”

Al-Ta’e, who has lived in Mosul for 40-years, refuses to leave. He reopened his paint shop despite it being one of only a handful of shops returning.

“Store owners, when they reopen their stores, bring back their families, and when other store owners see business is back, they come back. The city will rebound.”

The city still resembles a ghost town. Once home to 2 million residents, only about 300,000 now remain. Piles of rubble from what used to be buildings clutter the city. Residents feel neglected. After enduring years of horrific experiences under ISIS, they say very little government help is coming.

A 28-year-old Mosul resident who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Media Line that if one wishes to see how far the government has gone in rebuilding, one should just look around.

“In terms of services, see for yourself. Let the camera record what’s here. For more than two years they said they would build. They are stupefying the citizens. In terms of services, it’s very bad.”

Local officials say they are doing all they can to speed up the rebuilding process. Construction crews are making efforts at clearing the rubble and repaving some of the streets.

“This area was the last place liberated from ISIS. There were fierce and intense battles that caused great damage to the area. It is known that buildings in Old Mosul were dilapidated, and that the city was characterized by narrow alleys and a lack of infrastructure.”

Workers in Mosul’s Old City pave a street on September 26. The street, like much of the city, was destroyed in 2017 as coalition troops dislodged members of Islamic State. (Barzan Jabar)

Hosam Al-Amari, a member of the Nineveh Provincial Council, is inspecting work in Mosul’s Old City. Flanked by guards, Al-Amari admits that the work is moving at a sluggish pace. He tells The Media Line that the central government in Baghdad has pledged numerous times to help rebuild Mosul.

“Rehabilitation by the government is really slow but today we are committed to allocating funds. These projects are part of the 2019 budget. But the work requires more effort and more time. This street is the heart of Old Mosul. If life returns to this street, it will return to the city.”

The UN puts the annual cost of rebuilding the city at $1.8 billion. The Iraqi government says it will take years and billions of dollars to reconstruct the city – money it says it doesn’t have.

“We need greater support from the community and international organizations. The scale of the devastation that took place in Mosul is very large and the Islamic State organization came from all the countries of the world,” argues Al-Amari.

Signs of people returning can be found in and around Mosul. Moaed Saeed Qahwali is rebuilding the house that his father left him. Qahwali told The Media Line that ISIS fighters hid in his house, which subsequently was destroyed when it was bombarded by the US coalition during the city’s liberation.

“Now we are rebuilding the house because we consider it a legacy. We must rebuild Mosul again despite the destruction.”

But notwithstanding all the promises made by Iraqi officials to speed up the process of rebuilding Mosul, many here remain skeptical.

Residents gather outside a sandwich shop, guardedly watching the official inspecting the site, but have little hope that things will get done. For many of them, rampant corruption and bureaucracy make progress almost impossible, and it’s frustrating.

“If they had a patriotic feeling for this country and this stricken city, it would have been rebuilt. I don’t think the people who rule the country have a sense of patriotism,” said Qahwali.

Some of Mosul’s Old City still lies in ruin, as shown in this September 26 photo. (Barzan Jabar)

Bitter residents can’t help but make a comparison with the past – an analogy that scares and upsets many elsewhere in Iraq. One angry Mosul man who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity said conditions were measurably better before the 2003 US invasion.

“Only what [former Iraqi ruler] Saddam [Hussein] built is left; nothing else was built after. Saddam built bridges, hospitals and universities. After Saddam, destruction took place but nothing was built. This is the biggest proof: We live in ruins,” he said. “They talk about Saddam’s time. We used to have one calamity: Saddam. Now we have a thousand calamities from the head of parliament to the lowest civil servant. For your information, it was previously much better than now. We had security, stability and prosperity.”

Back at Abu Omar’s paint shop, he says he is hopeful and sees himself as a community leader – someone who could inspire others to return.

“My presence here has a positive and moral effect and encourages people to return. Some of the neighbors are starting to return and some shops are reopening.”

Twenty-year-old Khaled Al-Rawi lived through the entire time ISIS controlled the city. He told The Media Line that he was hiding with his whole family in their house. He loved to play his oud, a lute-like musical instrument. Music was outlawed under ISIS.

“I hid the oud in a rice bag so no one knew that I was carrying a musical instrument. I didn’t tell anyone that I was learning. One reason was that one of my friends was arrested by ISIS. He was tortured for a month because he was a musician.”

But finally, Khaled was able to play his oud without fear.

“The battle was fierce in our region and lasted 19 days. During the battle, we heard the door of our house smashed. We expected to see ISIS fighters wanting to hide in our house but we were surprised that it was the army. At that moment, we all started to cry. The whole family. The army tried to calm us down but we told them that these were tears of joy. At that moment, I lifted up my oud and started playing.”

Despite the crawling pace of reconstruction, Abu Omar insists that the future looks bright.

“We cannot live in despair. We must have hope that we will regain our past and build our future.”

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