Mosul Must Provide For Its Citizens Or ISIS Will Fill The Void Once Again

In order to regain the trust of its citizens, the Iraqi government must urgently rebuild Mosul.
07/19/2017 01:47 pm ET
Iraqi children who fled fighting in Mosul on the city's western edge. July 8.
FADEL SENNA via Getty Images
Iraqi children who fled fighting in Mosul on the city's western edge. July 8.

BEIRUT — The Iraqi city of Mosul has been liberated from the so-called Islamic State. Now, Iraqis and their international partners have an opportunity — as happened after the liberation of Fallujah, Tikrit and other towns that ISIS once controlled — to implement policies that achieve three intimately linked goals.

  1. The reconstruction and revival of the city in a manner that serves all residents.

  2. The adoption of policies that can address and ultimately eradicate the underlying factors that made ISIS attractive to some Iraqis and Arabs.

  3. The completion of post-2004 national governance systems in Iraq that enhance cross-sectarian cooperation, tolerance and security, and minimize corruption and nepotism.

This will require movement on two levels to cement the gains from the military defeat of ISIS in Mosul and other parts of northwestern Iraq and reduce the likelihood that ISIS or something worse rises again from the rubble of devastated Arab societies. First, we need deep and sustained reforms in the dysfunctional, corrupt governance systems across many Arab lands, so that citizens have a stronger voice in their societies and their basic needs are better met. Second, we need an end to the nonstop foreign military attacks and domestic civil wars that continue to create zones of chaos in which local governments collapse and terror groups thrive.

Local city and provincial governance councils should be established to allow all sectarian groups to share in decision-making.

In the urgent context of post-ISIS Mosul, Iraqis must identify a set of several actions to spur progress to restore normal life. The most important areas for action are daily security under the rule of law applied to all; inclusive governance and power-sharing that leaves no citizen feeling marginalized and heals divisions; reducing corruption, nepotism and abuse of power by official and unofficial groups who now act with impunity; and reliable delivery of basic services like water, electricity and health care. The immense scale of destruction makes physical reconstruction in a secure context the obvious top priority, given that 80 percent of the city is in ruins and tens of thousands of people’s homes have been severely damaged.

Some ambitious actions could seek to achieve several of these aims simultaneously. Local city and provincial government councils should be established to allow all sectarian groups to share in decision-making locally. Independent courts and new checks-and-balances systems should hold power accountable under the rule of law that is administered by local courts, audit systems and other such authorities. The government should prioritize expenditures on projects that the people of Mosul themselves deem most important to them.

The single matter that encapsulates all these linked dynamics is the behavior of security services, whether official government forces, informal tribal-sectarian groups, or private and freelance armed groups. Iraqis who have suffered the ravages of war and abuse by their own and foreign powers express a clear and widespread desire to be treated fairly and decently by security forces from all sides. Mosul’s reconstruction must quickly allow all its citizens to feel that they will no longer be arbitrarily arrested, robbed, kidnapped, tortured, killed or evicted from their homes, as has been the case for some decades now.

Mosul’s reconstruction must quickly allow all its citizens to feel that they will no longer be arbitrarily arrested, robbed, kidnapped, tortured, killed or evicted from their homes.

Iraqis are disgusted and terrified by the impunity enjoyed by gun-wielding men from all quarters ― including the army, police, local Sunni or Shiite militias, Iran-backed fighters, gangs and others — who commit criminal acts at will. Arresting and trying perpetrators for their actions would quickly reduce this threat. 

Corruption and nepotism, which are tightly linked with sectarian identity, also must be addressed. The government must remove from its payroll the estimated hundreds of thousands of citizens around the country who get paid but do little to no work. The government should instead use the money to fund reconstruction projects that create immediate jobs for Mosul residents. A new audit mechanism should be implemented to ensure that people registered as working for the government are actually alive and doing the work. A multi-sectarian review committee of Mosul locals should oversee such an accountability process, which would be protected by the city’s residents if they see that it generates jobs and better services for them.

The government must remove from its payroll hundreds of thousands of names of citizens who get paid but do little to no work.

Mosul offers an opportunity that was missed many times before in Iraq in recent years: the state can apply the law evenly and spend its funds equitably to serve all citizens in a manner that reduces corruption and nepotism, enhances quality of life, improves sense of belonging and security, and consequently eliminates the marginalization, humiliation and helplessness that have driven so many desperate men and women to ISIS and its cruel, false promises.

The Iraqi government has emerged from its campaign to evict ISIS from Mosul with enhanced capabilities and credibility. It should immediately apply these in the governance sphere in rebuilding Mosul to regain respect there as it has on the battlefield. 

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