It took the Iraqi army three years to break Daesh/ISIL’s territorial hold of Iraq, which at one point amounted to a third of the country. The war against Daesh/ISIL resulted in large-scale destruction and humanitarian needs on a massive scale. At its peak, over 5 million Iraqis fled their homes and just under half are still waiting to go back.
Many of the major cities formerly held by Daesh/ISIL were completely destroyed as a result of the conflict. One example is Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, renowned for its rich cultural and historical heritage. Following the liberation of the city in July 2017, the focus is now on rebuilding basic infrastructure so that internally displaced persons can go back to their homes and resume some form of normality. However, the challenges of doing so are turning out to be a lot greater than anyone had expected. The Embassy visited Mosul to observe the work of the UN in the area and to see the challenges of stabilisation in the aftermath of war.
One of the biggest challenges is the clearance of explosive hazards. There are unexploded and lethal ordinances everywhere, purposely left behind by Daesh/ISIL or as remnants of aerial and ground warfare. Examples of explosive hazards include improvised explosive devices, missiles and suicide belts. The quantities are vast. In Mosul’s Old City, a relatively small area consisting of 8 districts, over 27 000 explosive hazards have been identified so far, but the number is believed to be far greater. The UN, the Iraqi Government and its partners are working at full speed to clear explosives in public spaces such as roads, hospitals and schools.
Mosul, in particular the western part of Mosul which saw the heaviest fighting, was once a beautiful and vibrant city. Today, the Old City is empty and quiet. Most of the houses are destroyed and artificial roads need to be paved on top of the rubble to create access. Beneath the debris, there are unknown numbers of bodies waiting to be exhumed, more than seven months after the fighting ceased. Innocent civilians were used as human shields and those trying to flee were targeted by Daesh/ISIL in the final stages of the fighting. During the daytime, relatives of the deceased come back to search for and bury their loved ones. At night time, looters roam, searching for any valuables left behind.
Around half a million people are still waiting to return to Mosul, but there is currently little or nothing to return to. The Old City has no electricity or running water and is largely uninhabitable. UNDP and the Iraqi Government are working to restore basic infrastructure such as water plants, hospitals and electricity networks. In some parts of western Mosul, you can see people returning and rebuilding their homes or their shops bit by bit amidst the devastation, perhaps as an indication that it is the only choice they have. However, UNDP’s work is completely dependent on the work of experts clearing explosive hazards, an effort that takes time and where the demand outstrips the available resources.
The human cost and suffering as a result of the conflict against Daesh/ISIL is all too evident. Displacement, mass killings, loss of schooling and missing persons are but a few consequences that will create long-lasting scars and set back Iraq’s development for decades to come.
Needless to say, women and children have been particularly affected by the conflict. Daesh/ISIL targeted women and girls for sexual slavery as part of their caliphate. The women who survived these atrocities are deeply traumatised and facing stigma from their local communities because of their affiliation with Daesh/ISIL and their children born out of wedlock. There are still over 2 000 Yezidi women and girls missing since liberation. Behind each individual statistic lies a human tragedy.
In a post-conflict situation, security is often a key factor in ensuring the minimum conditions for stabilisation. In Mosul, the security situation is still precarious. Militias are operating in the area and cells of Daesh/ISIL are still active. Iraqi forces attack Daesh/ISIL cells on a regular basis. Daesh/ISIL has been militarily defeated, but its ideology, networks and financing still exist, threatening all stabilisation efforts, including those in Mosul.
Mosul and its Old City are in many ways a symbol of the war against Daesh/ISIL when it was at its worst. Its near total destruction and the scale of human suffering show us the real and ugly face of war. Going ahead, developments in Mosul will be indicative of how well Iraq manages to recover and provide for its population post-Daesh/ISIL. The UN estimates that rebuilding alone will take ten years or even more.
Sweden’s humanitarian and development commitment to Iraq
Sweden is providing several forms of support to Iraq in the wake of the conflict.
- Sweden is one of the main contributors to the UNDP stabilisation fund for Iraq, which works to rebuild basic infrastructure in the liberated territories. Sweden also supports UNMAS in its work on clearing explosive hazards.
- In 2017, Sweden provided more than USD 22 million to alleviate humanitarian needs. The initial allocations for 2018 stand at USD 15.3 million, a reflection of decreased acute humanitarian needs.
- Sweden remains one of the largest core contributors to UN agencies, the ICRC and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, allowing them the flexibility to play a crucial role in the humanitarian response in Iraq.
- Sweden places special importance on supporting survivors of sexual violence. Sweden is one of the main contributors to UNFPA’s programme in Iraq towards this end.
- Sweden has a five-year development strategy for Iraq. Between 2017 and 2021, Sweden will contribute USD 125 million to Iraq’s development. The strategy focuses on building peaceful and inclusive societies and increasing gender equality in Iraq.
Written by Josefine Hellgren at the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad