Iraq in Mosul struggles to rebuild itself without funds
Mosul (Iraq) (AFP)
Iraqi trader Ahmad Riad is once again busy serving customers in a Mosul market four years after the city was destroyed in fighting against the jihadists, but he is still awaiting war reparations.
“Life has slowly picked up,” said Riad, who runs a store of rice, pasta and canned tomato puree in the Corniche market, along the banks of the Tigre.
“But we have not received any compensation from the government.”
Mosul, the country’s second largest city in the province of Nineveh, was the last major Iraqi stronghold of the failed “caliphate” of the Islamic State group between 2014 and 2017.
The city was taken over by the Iraqi military and a US-led coalition after heavy shelling and fighting left it in ruins.
The market has been “devastated” by the battles, Riad said, as traders use their limited savings to rebuild.
“We are the ones who paid,” he said.
Of the 400 stalls that once filled the market, only a tenth has resumed operations, he added.
According to official sources, the cost of rebuilding Nineveh would exceed $ 100 billion, a staggering sum for a country in the throes of an economic crisis.
It exceeds the total annual budget of oil-rich Iraq, which stands at nearly $ 90 billion in 2021.
Many buildings are still in ruins, their facades strewn with bullet holes and piles of rubble litter all around.
– 100,000 claims, 2,600 paid –
When Pope Francis visited Mosul last March, he celebrated mass with the partially collapsed walls of the century-old church behind him.
French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to travel to Mosul on Sunday, a day after attending a regional summit in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, some 355 kilometers (220 miles) to the south.
Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, is a melting pot of diverse ethnic communities and was once one of the key cities on the Middle East trade route, located close to Turkey and Syria.
Ammar Hussein runs a restaurant.
“The government should compensate traders who have suffered damage so that they can rebuild their stores and the market can regain its former glory,” he said.
The list of demands is long.
Some 100,000 claims have been filed by those who suffered damage during the “liberation operations”, according to Mahmud al-Akla, director of the Nineveh Compensation Department.
Not even three percent were paid: while more than 65,000 cases were reviewed, only 2,600 applicants received money, he said.
On top of that, the centralized nature of the Iraqi state – and the corrupt bureaucracy that governs it – means that disbursements are paid extremely slowly.
Mosul District President Zuhair al-Araji accuses Baghdad officials.
– Promises in the run-up to the elections –
Progress is uneven.
While 80 percent of basic infrastructure such as sewers and roads have been restored, only about a third of health facilities have been rebuilt, according to Araji.
Mosul resident Saad Ghanem filed a claim for his destroyed house.
“As far as I know, the Nineveh Compensation Department finalized the transaction and then submitted it to the government in Baghdad,” he said. “They still haven’t compensated us.”
Mosul, a Sunni Muslim city, did not participate in the popular October 2019 protests denouncing government corruption and abuse of power in Baghdad, as well as in much of the country’s Shiite south.
Residents said they feared the benefits of the reconstruction would be wiped out by the unrest.
With parliamentary elections two months away, the slow pace of reconstruction prompted Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi to surrender earlier this month.
Kadhemi said he was “sorry” for the problems, ordering a committee to draw up a “plan of action”.
In his wooden furniture store, carpenter Ali Mahmoud said he was exhausted.
“I hope to rebuild my workshop, which was my livelihood, and come back here,” he said. “But I don’t have enough money.”
© 2021 AFP