Mosul still awaits Baghdad's help for reconstruction

Traders at the ravaged Bab Al Saray market in Mosul's Old City are rebuilding their shattered businesses themselves

In this Nov. 15, 2017 photo, aerial view of destroyed building and shops in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. The scope of destruction in the neighborhood is comparable to some of the worst urban battles of World War II, and the cost of rebuilding is nearly incalculable.  (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
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Fed up with waiting for assistance from the Iraqi authorities to materialise, traders at the ravaged Bab Al Saray market in Mosul's Old City are rebuilding their shattered businesses themselves.

After months of silence, the sound of construction work and returning commerce is finally filling the historic district devastated by the months-long battle to force out the Islamic State group.

"I was the first to open my shop some two months back after cleaning it up with the help of other traders," ironmonger Zanoun Younes Rajab, 44, told AFP.

The father of five Mr Rajab and neighbouring stallholders had to each fork out 25,000 dinars (US$20) just to clear the rubble blocking their street.

In the neighbouring alleys - where grocers and carpenters are looking to start plying their trades again -- it is the same story.

The market, part of which dates back over 1,300 years to the time of the Ummayyad caliphate, bears the scars of the fierce fighting that saw ISIL terrorists finally kicked out of Iraq's second city in July.

Shopfronts are blasted, ceilings have caved in, wooden beams are broken, stocks have been plundered.

Under the rubble lie rotting corpses of jihadists killed in street-to-street clashes or by air strikes from a US-led coalition.

There is not much left intact in what was once one of Mosul's busiest neighbourhoods.

Gateways leading into the market have been pulverised and accessing some areas remains dangerous because of the threat of unexploded munitions or ISIL booby traps, despite assurances by security officials.

But this has not put off some traders from trying to bring the district back to life.

Builders are busy fixing roofs or mending the shattered pavements.

"We did not wait for the city authorities because they are very slow and it would surely take months longer," said spice seller Abu Ahmed.

But if the government can lure investment and reignite Mosul’s local economy, then its liberation could mark a turning point from one of the darkest chapters in Iraq’s history.


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In July, the Iraqi government held a conference in London that brought Iraqi and foreign business owners together with government officials and experts to discuss the opportunities and barriers to developing the country's economy. "Now we need a Marshall Plan," Ibrahim al Jaafari, Iraq's foreign minister, said in his opening remarks - a reference to America's huge reconstruction program following the Second World War. He argued that such a plan wouldn't just be sensible policy, but an obligation of the international community, according to The Atlantic newspaper. "Over a hundred nationalities came to Iraq as terrorists. Iraq is fighting to protect itself and on behalf of the whole world," he said.

But so far, little evidence if any foreign investment has arrived to the battered city.

Mayor Zouhair Sl Araji insists that local officials are doing all they can "with the little we have at our disposal".

Most equipment was stolen or destroyed, electricity and water are still out in parts of town and many roads remain impassable.

He, instead, points the finger further up the chain to the authorities in Baghdad.

"Up until now we have only been relying on ourselves as the central government still has no reconstruction plan for Mosul," he said.

That means that it is down to the market traders to try to return some of the missing life.

Abu Nabil, 65, is among those who could not wait any longer as time slipped by after the official announcement of Mosul's liberation.

His carpet stall is the oldest in the market and has been passed down from father to son for generations in his family.

"I cannot imagine my life without my work and my shop, so today I am cleaning it up and starting to bring back everything I saved before the fighting," he said.

"Our shop is our soul, we cannot live without it in peace."