Af­ter ISIS, Iraq’s real test

Fail­ure to deal with old rifts, new woes could fuel an­other in­sur­gency

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY LIZ SLY AND AASO AMEEN SCHWAN

mo­sul, iraq — The col­lapse of the Is­lamic State in its most im­por­tant Iraqi strongholds has brought a rare moment of hope for a coun­try mired in war for most of the past four decades.

It is also a moment of peril, as Iraq emerges from the fight against the mil­i­tants only to be con­fronted with the same prob­lems that fu­eled their spec­tac­u­lar rise in 2014.

Old dis­putes be­tween Sun­nis, Shi­ites and Kurds over ter­ri­tory, re­sources and power al­ready are resur­fac­ing as the vic­tors of the bat­tles com­pete to con­trol lib­er­ated ar­eas or jos­tle for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage in the post-Is­lamic State land­scape.

Th­ese ri­val­ries now are com­pounded by the mam­moth task of re­build­ing the towns and cities de­stroyed by the fight­ing, re­turn­ing mil­lions of dis­placed peo­ple to their homes, and rec­on­cil­ing the com­mu­ni­ties that once wel­comed the Is­lamic State’s bru­tal rule as prefer­able to their own govern­ment’s ne­glect and abuse.

A fail­ure to man­age the post­con­flict sit­u­a­tion risks a re­peat of the cy­cle of grievance and re­volt that fu­eled the orig­i­nal Iraqi in­sur­gency in 2003, and its rein­car­na­tion in the form of the Is­lamic State af­ter 2011, Iraqis and other ob­servers say.

But it is a vast and po­ten­tially in­sur­mount­able chal­lenge, laid bare in the trau­ma­tized com­mu­ni­ties of Mo­sul. In the city’s rel­a­tively un­scathed east, life has bounced

back. Traf­fic clogs the streets, mu­sic blares from mar­kets and stores are piled high with con­sumer goods, such as cell­phones, air con­di­tion­ers and satel­lite dishes, that were banned or hard to find un­der Is­lamic State rule.

In the rav­aged west, which bore the brunt of the fight­ing, en­tire neigh­bor­hoods have been lev­eled be­yond re­pair. In the Old City alone, 230,000 peo­ple have been left with­out habi­ta­tion, and “they are not go­ing home soon; the whole dis­trict has to be re­built,” said Lise Grande, the deputy spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.N. mis­sion in Iraq.

So far, there is no sign of any re­con­struc­tion ef­fort on the scale that will be re­quired, said Hosh­yar Ze­bari, a for­mer Iraqi for­eign min­is­ter who is from Mo­sul and now works as an ad­viser with the Kur­dish re­gional govern­ment.

“All the writ­ing is on the wall that there will be an­other ISIS,” he said, us­ing an acro­nym for the Is­lamic State. “The scale of frus­tra­tion. The lack of hope. The lack of govern­ment step­ping in. What can you ex­pect?”

Mean­while, dis­trac­tions loom as Iraq’s fo­cus shifts to the long­stand­ing po­lit­i­cal ri­val­ries that were put on hold by the im­per­a­tive of con­fronting the Is­lamic State.

The Kur­dish re­gion is press­ing ahead with a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence — over the stren­u­ous ob­jec­tions of Iran, Turkey and the United States — that has the po- ten­tial to ig­nite a new war be­fore the present one is over. The vote is re­open­ing the con­tentious ques­tion of where the borders of the Kur­dis­tan re­gion lie, and ten­sions are ris­ing in ar­eas where the Kur­dish pesh­merga forces and Ira­ni­an­backed Shi­ite mili­tias have been brought face-to-face by the war against the Is­lamic State.

Rifts are emerg­ing within Iraq’s gov­ern­ing Shi­ite ma­jor­ity, which ral­lied be­hind the coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces and mili­tias — known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or the pop­u­lar mo­bi­liza­tion units — for the sake of fight­ing the Is­lamic State. There are sharp di­ver­gences, how­ever, over the fu­ture iden­tity of the coun­try, over whether it should tilt fur­ther to­ward Iran or main­tain an al­liance with the United States, and over how far to go to rec­on­cile mi­nor­ity Sun­nis with the Shi­ites.

Th­ese is­sues are ex­pected to come to the fore in elec­tions due in the spring that could be­come a fo­cus for con­flict as the po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­hind the Ira­nian-backed mili­tias that played a big role in the fight­ing seek to cap­i­tal­ize on their vic­to­ries by win­ning a big­ger share in par­lia­ment.

The coun­try’s Sun­nis are in dis­ar­ray, scat­tered among refugee camps or re­turn­ing to wrecked homes in towns and cities that have been laid waste. Some 2 mil­lion of the 5 mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed by the fight­ing over the past three years have re­turned home. But 3.2 mil­lion still live as refugees, mainly in dis­mal camps, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

Many have no homes to which they can re­turn, and oth­ers fear ret­ri­bu­tion from neigh­bors or the se­cu­rity forces, Grande said.

In Mo­sul, there is re­lief that the mil­i­tants have gone but also trep­i­da­tion about what the fu­ture holds. Mul­ti­ple mili­tias roam the streets, loyal to a va­ri­ety of po­lit­i­cal mas­ters, govern­ment min­is­ters, tribal lead­ers and mem­bers of par­lia­ment. The govern­ment se­cu­rity forces are spread thin, and some have been with­drawn and de­ployed else­where for the other bat­tles still to be fought be­fore the fi­nal ter­ri­to­rial de­feat of the mil­i­tants.

Some of the armed men in Mo­sul are lo­cal Sun­nis, trained as part of a U.S.-pro­moted ini­tia­tive to in­clude lo­cals in the city’s fu­ture se­cu­rity ar­range­ments. Oth­ers are mem­bers of the Ira­nian-backed Shi­ite mili­tias that were kept out of the bat­tle for fear they would in­flame sec­tar­ian ten­sions, but that have moved in to set up of­fices and re­cruit lo­cal al­lies.

The mili­tias are needed be­cause there are not enough po­lice and other se­cu­rity forces per­son­nel to keep the city safe, said Mo­hammed al-Sayyab, a busi­ness­man orig­i­nally from the ma­jor­ity-Shi­ite city of Basra who heads a small Sunni fight­ing force con­trolled by the min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion. “We can­not say it is 100 per­cent safe. It is 70 per­cent safe,” he said. “There are still ISIS sleeper cells. We are work­ing to clear them, but we are up against a very clever en­emy.”

Few think the Is­lamic State has gone away. Ev­ery­one, it seems, has a story about some­one they know who was with the mil­i­tants and has reap­peared in their neigh­bor­hoods, some­times af­ter be­ing de­tained and freed. Cor­rup­tion within the se­cu­rity forces and ju­di­ciary con­trib­utes to the per­cep­tion that Is­lamic State fight­ers have bought their way out of prison.

Om­ran Mo­hammed Bashir, 32, who runs a laun­dry in east­ern Mo­sul, ticked off on his fin­gers the for­mer Is­lamic State mem­bers he has seen around his area and else­where in the city. Among them are a rel­a­tive who has not been de­tained, even though her fa­ther re­ported her to the se­cu­rity ser­vices, and a man who com­manded the fight­ers in Bashir’s neigh­bor­hood; Bashir ran into the man while vis­it­ing a dif­fer­ent part of Mo­sul.

“I don’t think there will be any sup­port for an­other in­sur­gency. The peo­ple of Mo­sul have learned a les­son,” he said. “But it’s un­pre­dictable what will hap­pen, es­pe­cially if the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues like this, with no re­con­struc­tion and cor­rup­tion inside the govern­ment.”

But Iraq has no bud­get for re­con­struc­tion, govern­ment of­fi­cials say. Years of de­clin­ing oil prices and the fi­nan­cial de­mands of the war against the Is­lamic State have left the coun­try bank­rupt, forced last year to take a bailout from the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

The ab­sence of a dis­cernible re­con­struc­tion plan in turn fu­els per­cep­tions among Sun­nis that the Shi­ite-led govern­ment is ne­glect­ing them, said Has­san Alaf, the deputy gover­nor of Nin­eveh, the prov­ince in which Mo­sul lies.

“It seems some of the politi­cians are not keen to bring life back to Mo­sul,” he said. “We still suf­fer from sec­tar­ian con­flict, and its im­pli­ca­tions are re­flected in the re­con­struc­tion.”

It will be left to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to come up with the money to re­pair the dam­age, much of it caused by the re­lent­less airstrikes and ar­tillery bom­bard­ments con­ducted un­der the aus­pices of the U.S.-led coali­tion formed to fight the Is­lamic State, ac­cord­ing to Grande, the U.N. rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The United Na­tions is plan­ning a fundrais­ing con­fer­ence in Kuwait this month at which it will seek up to $100 bil­lion in do­na­tions for Iraqi re­con­struc­tion.

But the coun­tries that en­thu­si­as­ti­cally pros­e­cuted the war are prov­ing less will­ing to pay to fix the dam­age, U.N. and aid agency of­fi­cials say. The U.S. mil­i­tary has spent $14.3 bil­lion on fight­ing the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria over the past three years, ac­cord­ing to Pen­tagon fig­ures, but just 10 per­cent of that — or $1.4 bil­lion — on re­pairs.

The State Depart­ment has asked for $300 mil­lion to fund ba­sic re­pairs such as fix­ing elec­tric­ity and wa­ter sys­tems in 2018, but the United States does not plan to con­trib­ute to the re­con­struc­tion ef­fort. The U.S.-led mil­i­tary coali­tion “is not in the busi­ness of na­tion-build­ing or re­con­struc­tion,” Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said ear­lier this year.

One glim­mer of hope lies in a re­cent rap­proche­ment be­tween the Iraqi govern­ment and Saudi Ara­bia, which have been icily es­tranged since the 2003 U.S.-led in­va­sion brought a Shi­ite-dom­i­nated govern­ment to power in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi has vis­ited the king­dom, and so has the Iraqi Shi­ite cleric Mo­q­tada al-Sadr, who has bro­ken ranks with Iran’s Shi­ite al­lies in Iraq to cham­pion calls for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Sun­nis.

U.S. and U.N. of­fi­cials hope the wealthy Arab states of the Per­sian Gulf will pro­vide much of the fund­ing. But they may not have the will to come up with the many bil­lions of dol­lars re­quired.

SAFIN HAMED/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A me­chanic works on a car that was dam­aged in east­ern Mo­sul dur­ing the of­fen­sive to re­take the area from the Is­lamic State.

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