An Iraqi soldier walks through the devastated Old City area of Mosul – REUTERS
CAIRO - 16 February 2018: On the one hand the world cares, on the other it doesn’t. It’s easy for governments to convince their populations that billions of dollars spent turning cities to rubble is money well spent. To an extent, they’re right. When ISIS tore through Iraq in 2014, the country was in dire straits. The Iraqi army’s role and symbolic value was diminished, while the political system was on the brink of collapse as strongman Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was forced to tender his resignation.
So the United States steps forward with the might of its global coalition. At the invitation of the Iraqi government, the United States led a coalition of the willing in Iraq to counter the threat which challenged the existence of the Iraqi state as we know it today. Working in cohorts with Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces, the U.S. led coalition was rooted in its single goal: the eradication of ISIS, which it was highly effective at. The Iraqi government announced in December of last year that its war against ISIS was over almost three and a half years after the group began commanding territory in the country.
For a campaign to be largely effective, a single goal cannot be achieved through a single measure. Cities under ISIS control have faced indiscriminate bombing as the group has been militarily battered, but so has everything else. It became apparent that regular warfare on the ground was not simply supplemented by airstrikes, but overtaken by them. With the difficulty of distinguishing between civilian and militant, family-house or training compound; the refugee communities’ worst fears are being realised when they returned to what was left of their cities. Key infrastructure had been destroyed and people were often unable to return to the rubble which was once their home.
Multifaceted campaigns are essential, a point stressed by the U.S. to its allies in the Middle East, however it’s too late to dwell on this point. Now the military contest is over, a coordinated approach to regenerate these cities is crucial for a return to normal life and to avoid a re-invigorated discontent and violence. Yet again however, the disturbingly single minded nature of foreign policy has come to the forefront of the world’s attention. Cities have been reduced to rubble, people aren’t willing to rebuild.
An Iraqi boy sells water in front of destroyed houses on a street in Western Mosul, Iraq August 7, 2017. Picture taken through a glass window – REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
A global donor conference – Kuwaiti International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq (KICRI) – has pledged almost $30 billion to help Iraq rebuild. All of the conference attendees were trying to reach agreements to reconstruct destroyed houses, infrastructure, roads, hospitals, schools and public facilities. However, the funds raised are meagre in contrast to the $88 billion the country estimates it will need to rebuild.
The conference enjoyed the participation of 70 humanitarian organizations, the representatives of 1,850 global companies and the officials of 70 countries worldwide, however Iraq still faces a financial crisis. Turkey, one of Iraq’s largest trading partners, promised $5 billion in investment loans, and Kuwait promised $1 billion in investment and $1 billion in loans. However, Iraq is in dire need of around $22 billion in urgent reconstruction.
The NGP Transparency International ranks Iraq as the 10th most corrupt country in the world, and accordingly the political and security risks of doing business in Iraq is damaging commercial interests.
Notably however, the U.S. was absent. While officials said in advance that Washington would not attend the conference, the fact that the U.S. will not stand front is centre in helping the country rebuild is indicative of the foreign policy it currently employs; first to enter, first to leave.
The country is in desperate need of short term and long term financial support. As the government hopes to diversify the economy away from reliability on oil rents, key infrastructure is needed to help mobilise the workforce. From hospitals to homes, roads to runways, schools to social centres; the material necessities which provide a basic quality of life are absent is large swathes of territory. If the world, and notably those deeply invested in Iraq, cannot appropriately finance Iraq’s reconstruction, there is a risk that factors leading to instability will become prevalent again.