Baghdad – With Iraq’s cities now liberated from ISIS, returning to some semblance of normalcy is now the country’s most urgent task.
Iraqi civilians need to believe that their situation in the future will be better than the difficult times under ISIS.
Visiting Iraq last week, we heard story after story about the hurdles to getting Iraq’s cities back up and running after the battles with ISIS.
United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) workers described how they just blew up 12,000 bombs and suicide belts left behind by ISIS in Mosul’s Shifa Hospital, a former ISIS headquarters that is thoroughly laced with explosives. A United Nations engineer laid out the tedious work of restoring Mosul’s power stations and electrical grid; since steps must be done in sequence, it will take a year to fully restore power to the city.
Jassim Mohammed al-Jaaf, Iraq’s minister of migration and displacement, spoke of the challenges faced by the 2.6 million Iraqis who remain displaced from their homes, driven from war-ravaged cities like Mosul and the surrounding Ninewa Province.
“The priority now,” he says, “is to bring back normal life to Iraq’s cities so that people can return home—or choose to stay in a new city.” As a former displaced person himself, al-Jaaf understands the magnitude of the challenge as well as the human toll.
This coming week will tell a lot. That’s when government and business leaders from around the world, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and representatives from over 100 U.S. companies, will assemble in Kuwait to plan solutions to Iraq’s recovery challenges as well as investments in its economic future.
The turnout and aid pledges could indicate whether the international community is prepared to keep Iraq moving on what at last could be a hopeful trajectory, and whether the Iraqi government is prepared to take the steps needed to make the most of this opportunity.
Of the 2.6 million Iraqis who remain displaced (of 5.7 million displaced since the beginning of the conflict in 2014), 1.6 million are from Ninewa Province. These remaining displaced Iraqis need to be able to go home if they choose to, and, more immediately, provisions must be made for them to vote.
The effort to register all these displaced, mostly Sunni, Iraqis to be able to vote in May elections will be critical as a sign of their political incorporation post-ISIS. Progress on this front is minimal to date, and Iraq’s electoral commission will need to move faster.
The UNMAS workers who are leading the efforts to clear Mosul and other cities of massive amounts of explosive material find more improvised explosive devices and bodies the deeper they dig into West Mosul’s rubble.