The wrecked roads, bridges and broader economy of Mosul will take at least five years to repair and need billions of dollars of development that Iraq’s government will struggle to afford, officials returning to the battle-scarred city said.
The airport, railway station and university were all destroyed in the long fight to dislodge ISIS militants from their main Iraqi stronghold.
Iraqi government forces backed by a US-led coalition have now retaken the eastern half of the city – letting regional councillors return for the first time in 2-1/2 years to survey the damage.
“After Mosul is fully liberated, we need a working plan to restore things to the way they were before 2014 when ISIS took over,” Noureldin Qablan, deputy chairman of the council covering the surrounding Nineveh province, told Reuters.
He sat back in his office in the heart of Mosul, the province’s regional capital, an unremarkable building apart from its new concrete fortifications and the teams of armed guards surrounding it.
A gun lay on his desk, next to his phone and piles of paperwork.
Outside, bustling markets have sprung back into life on the eastern banks of the Tigris river. Over on the other side of the river, ISIS militants are holed in, defending the densely-populated Old City with snipers and suicide bombers.
At the heart of their territory sits the medieval Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its famous leaning minaret, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate in July 2014. Experts fear the fragile brick structure could still succumb to the fighting raging around it.
Iraq’s army has said it expects to expel ISIS from the rest of the city by May.