Fallujah is gradually emerging from the ISIS occupation of the past three years and the legacy of insurgencies of the previous decade that have tarnished the city's reputation.
In the aftermath of the three year long ISIS occupation, the citizens of Fallujah are working to not only rebuild their homes and communities but also trying to disassociate themselves from the legacy of insurgencies that has tarnished the reputation of their city.
Fallujah has the dubious distinction for being the first city to fall under the banner of ISIS having been captured by the militants in January 2014. Even as far back as 2004, however, the city was a hotbed of militant insurgencies, including the predecessor of ISIS, Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. As a result of the chronic insurgency, the city was viewed negatively by many Iraqis.
Since liberation from ISIS in 2016, however, the citizens of Fallujah have been galvanised, not only to rebuild their city but also to ensure that the conditions that allowed groups such as ISIS to rise (and gain support) cannot occur again.
It is an uphill challenge. Much of Fallujah has been left devastated during the battles to liberate the city. Indeed, in the months immediately after liberation, the mood in the city was one of pessimism due to the relatively slow pace of reconstruction.
As the battle against ISIS gained momentum over the course of 2017 and 2018, so has reconstruction. The burden has been shared between numerous civil society and volunteer groups engaged in micro-projects and local improvements and the Iraqi Government which has been engaged in macro-projects and large-scale improvements.
Post-ISIS rebuilding efforts have also expanded to the religious and ideological terrains. There is no denying that part of the reason ISIS legitimised itself on religious grounds was because its ability to interpret scripture for its extremist goals went unchallenged. In Fallujah, where such extremist rhetoric was enabled as early as the days of Saddam Hussein under his Faith Campaign, the impacts were particularly enormous. It is therefore natural that Fallujah has become the focal point ofcounter-extremism efforts. Civil society groups, meanwhile, have been working to canonise the group’s victims and ensure that the brutal depredations of the militants will not be forgotten.
The officials in the city also say that the errors of the previous Iraqi Governments have been learned and the policies enacted in the city today differ than those that allowed the militants to legitimise themselves. The enthusiastic reception of the events such as the Army Day and the solidarity events between the cities of Najaf and Fallujah highlight that the mood and outlook has indeed shifted.
It has been a long and arduous path. However, the return of life to the streets of Fallujah, the reopening of shops and restaurants after having been looted by the militants and the re-establishment of institutions such as the Voice of Fallujah Radio are all a cause for optimism.