Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi congratulated the people of Iraq on the “major victory in Mosul” but questions remain on what the government will do in the city once the remaining Islamic State (ISIS) militants are eradicated.
An estimated 300, mostly foreign, ISIS fighters holed up in pockets in Mosul appear to be fiercely fighting to the last, with a reported increase in suicide bombings, some of which were carried out by women.
Abadi’s victory celebrations appear to be early as the United Nations estimated that up to 20,000 civilians are trapped in ISIS-held areas in Mosul’s Old City, where the militants target civilians who try to escape.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) expressed concern that only a small number of civilians were getting the medical attention they needed in Mosul, where many have been hurt by shrapnel and other blast injuries, broken bones from collapsed buildings, in addition to burns.
Once the dust settles, Mosul’s civilian population must deal with the psychological trauma of ISIS rule and the battle to dislodge it.
“This is a massive population that has been traumatised from a very brutal and horrific conflict,” Jonathan Henry, emergency coordinator for MSF in west Mosul, said in Geneva. This “extremely traumatic environment” will affect people’s mental health on a large scale, he said.
A report by the Save the Children charity said many of Mosul’s children suffered from dangerous levels of psychological damage, which has led to some of them having vivid waking nightmares.
“What was striking was how introverted and withdrawn children have become. They rarely even smiled. It was as though they had lost the ability to be children,” Dr Marcia Brophy, Save the Children’s senior mental health adviser for the Middle East, said in a statement.
For many who survived brutal ISIS rule, the ordeal is not over as they have to endure a strict screening process by Iraqi security forces.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that boys as young as 14, in addition to elderly people, were being detained after being accused of having links to ISIS.
“These are not children. They are cubs of the caliphate,” special forces Lieutenant Fadhel Hadad told the AP at a checkpoint in the Old City as he pointed to a group of young boys in custody.
“We know they are all [ISIS] families but what do we do, kill them all?” special forces soldier Amar Tabal said to the AP.
The humanitarian effects of the battle to dislodge ISIS from Mosul were more severe than the United Nations had estimated.
“We exceeded our worst-case scenario more than a month ago. In our very worst-case scenario, we thought that 750,000 people would flee,” UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Lise Grande told Agence France-Presse. The number of those who fled their homes is approximately 915,000, nearly 700,000 of whom are still displaced.
The prospect for those civilians looks grim after the city’s liberation as out of western Mosul’s 44 residential neighbourhoods, six were nearly destroyed, 22 were moderately damaged and 16 were lightly damaged, Grande said.
In a separate interview with Reuters, Grande estimated it would cost more than $1 billion to repair Mosul’s basic infrastructure.
“In western Mosul, what we’re seeing is the worst damage of the entire conflict,” she said. “In those neighbourhoods where the fighting has been the fiercest, we’re looking at levels of damage incomparable to anything else that has happened in Iraq so far.”
“What that shows is that the level of damage is far higher than we expected and that’s why the cost of stabilisation is far higher,” she said.
The pace of reconstruction would be among the factors that determine whether the failure of ISIS in Mosul lasts.
“The clear-up operation will do much to determine whether the government wins the war as well as the battle,” wrote the Economist. “The prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, wants to get people home quickly but the [United Nations] says 200,000 have none to return to. Most of the latter come from poor neighbourhoods, like the Old City, where [ISIS] found many recruits. Strewn across Iraq, they may now spread their anger countrywide.”
The answer to Mosul’s problems may depend on what happens in Iraq as a whole.
“Although Iraqis are now more supportive of state institutions, they are also concerned that the root causes that led to the rise of ISIS have not been adequately addressed,” wrote Renad Mansour in a research paper published by the think-tank Chatham House. “As such, many are placing a new emphasis not only on defeating ISIS but also on countering corruption through effective state-building and better governance.”