Old City West Mosul (Al Jazeera)
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the main group working with Iraq’s displaced population (IDPs). In June 2019 it released the results of survey work it did in West Mosul, the most war damaged area in Iraq. It talked with people that stayed in the city during the Islamic State occupation, those the fled and have now returned, and those that are still displaced. The IOM found that there are still major unresolved issues for the district including a lack of rebuilding, services, schools and jobs, along with distrust and resentment.
Many sections of West Mosul remain in rubble two years after it was liberated from the Islamic State. Residents believed this was due to corruption and that the district was being punished because people believed that West Mosul was Islamic State territory. This was highlighted by the fact that most of East Mosul has been rebuilt. The IOM pointed out that West Mosul suffered far more damage from increased Coalition bombing and indiscriminate shelling by the Iraqi forces than the east, but that it was up to the government to overcome the suspicions of the people there. Worries about corruption however are widespread amongst all Iraqis and legitimate as the Integrity Commission just reported that the former Ninewa Governor Nawful Akoub stole $10 million meant to rebuild two hospitals in Mosul. Before that the Commission said that officials connected with Akoub had taken up to $60 million. Akoub currently has an warrant out for him and is living in Kurdistan to avoid his arrest.
The IOM was one of the first groups to talk with people who stayed in West Mosul after the Islamic State seized the city. During the battle for the city in June 2014 thousands of people fled, but then many came back, especially when they were told that life was back to normal. That quickly changed however. IS imposed all kinds of restrictions upon the populace based upon it’s Islamic rules. By November 2014 it started travel restrictions, and in May 2015 banned most people from leaving. Minorities were persecuted leading most to leave, and they have not returned. That has left the city 99% Sunni Muslim. During the Battle of Mosul that occurred from October 2016 to July 2017 an estimated 130,000 homes were damaged in West Mosul. When asked about how much did they know about IS before it took Mosul, 85% said nothing, and only 2.7% said they knew something or a lot. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed, 62% believed that IS would only stay in the city for a few weeks or months, compared to 35% who thought it would be there for years. Those figures help explain why so many people went back to the city after June 2014. Most had no idea what to expect of the new rulers, and didn’t even think they would be living under them for the next three years.
Mosul has one of the highest IDP return rates in Iraq. As of May 2019, 76% of the displaced had gone back, a total of 984,588 people, while 305,376 were still not home. People who left were condemned by IS and had their property confiscated and destroyed in retaliation. Today, those who were believed to be IS sympathizers or families have been persecuted and denied services. There have also been false accusations against people due to personal disputes and rivalries that have exaggerated this division. How long people stayed in Mosul played a major role in how they are perceived. Those that fled within with a few months of the IS take over have a good reputation, while those that stayed longer are now considered IS. People who identify as being with IS told the IOM they would either stay in displaced camps or move to another city to try to start over. Also those that fled after the city was freed and have recently gone back were considered economic refugees. Residents that stayed in the city the whole time are considered IS, but see themselves as being loyal to the city or wanted to protect their property. This survey work provides a complicated picture of Mosul’s population. People have very different views of each other depending upon their decision after June 2014. There is a lot of blaming and suspicion that will be very difficult to overcome. This will also last for the foreseeable future as the government has no reconciliation plan. It’s also ironic because many people from West Mosul believe they are being discriminated against as IS, but are perfectly willing to label their fellow residents the same way.
There are still 300,000 displaced people from Mosul. Many said they would not return because there was a lack of jobs, their homes were destroyed, or have been occupied by others, along with the lack of reconstruction and services. Many said they fear retaliation if they went back because they believe they will be called IS. These are common issues not only for IDPs from Mosul, but from across post-war areas of the country. The state of these districts widely varies and is the reason why there are still over 1 million IDPs and return rates have vastly slowed in 2019.
The IOM went to three displaced camps near Mosul to observe the situation of those that still have not made the trip back. One was Haj Ali that had 14,012 IDPs, 34% of which were from west Mosul. It had good services compared to the city, but didn’t meet the people’s needs. The schools were bad, but people said they felt safe especially because their tribe had responsibility for security. In Hassan Sham Camp there were 10,414 people. The services were poor. Qayara Airstrip Camp had 52,598 IDPs. The services there were bad as well, and people associated with IS had been attacked. Some tents were set on fire during the summer of 2018 for example. Again, the state of these camps can be replicated across Iraq. Just like in Mosul there are divisions with IS sympathizers being singled out. Many people feel like the situation in their camp is still better than Mosul, which is why they are staying.
Finally, the IOM surveyed the situation in West Mosul. There are entire neighborhoods that are still destroyed, and bodies are still being discovered although that has slowed down. The services are poor especially sanitation, which is spreading diseases usually arising from decomposing bodies in the rubble. There are reports of abuses by the security forces harassing people, using violence, and handing out abandoned buildings to their sympathizers. Revenge killings and attacks upon IS followers have occurred. Most of the children had their education stunted because they did not attend school when they were run by IS. There are also fears that the young were indoctrinated by IS. Many people who stayed in the city have no money to rebuild their homes. Some returnees say the situation is worse in the city than in the camps they just left. There is little aid or compensation for people, and again, they blame this on officials who think west Mosul followed IS during the occupation. Overall there appears to be a lot of frustration and resentment in West Mosul. The legacy of IS is tremendous. The district is a wreck and there is no urgency in repairing it. Residents feel this is being done on purpose which makes the situation worse. People are suspicious of each other and the security forces. Again, because the government has no policy for either reconstruction or reconciliation it leaves NGOs like the IOM and locals to work on their own when they lack the money and means to deal with these issues. That leaves the city in a precarious situation with no resolution coming anytime soon.
Asharq Al-Awsat, “Iraq: Fugitive Ex-Governor Embezzled $10 MN in Aid for Displaced,” 7/30/19
International Organization for Migration, “West Mosul, Perceptions On Return And Reintegration Among Stayees, IDPs and Returnees,” June 2019