Five years after ISIS, Mosul families rebuild homes while awaiting reparations

The 2014-2017 conflict destroyed or damaged an estimated 54,000 houses in the city

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Bassam Mohammed Hashim salvaged, cleaned and re-used bricks from his partially damaged house to rebuild it after it was bombed during the 2017 battle to drive ISIS militants out of the northern Iraq city of Mosul.

“We waited and waited for the financial compensation to come, but we got nothing,” Mr Hashim, nicknamed Abu Fahad, told The National.

“When I realised it would take time to get the compensation, I started the work from my own money, step by step, using mainly the same old bricks,” said Mr Hashim, a 43-year-old blacksmith.

Four years have passed since he finished construction and he has yet to receive much in the way of help.

It is the fifth anniversary of Mosul's liberation from occupation by ISIS fanatics and many families are still struggling with a lack of financial support to rebuild their homes.

Bassam Mohammed Hashim at door of his house that he rebuild himself. Mahmoud Rida/ The National

Some Moslawis have been left to rebuild their houses with whatever they have to hand to avoid the financial burden of paying rent. Others who are less fortunate gaze upon their wrecked homes with pain-racked hearts.

Mosul, the provincial capital of Nineveh province and Iraq’s second largest city, was a key part of the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate that spanned large areas in Iraq and Syria from mid-2014 to 2017.

While ISIS was responsible for a litany of crimes against its population, the intense fighting over many months reduced much of Mosul to rubble, caused thousands of civilian casualties and uprooted millions from their homes.

A long wait for liberation

As the security forces advanced from the eastern side of the city in 2017, ISIS militants withdrew to the western side with their own families and others, using them as human shields until they reached Mr Hashim’s New Mosul neighbourhood.

His relatives trickled to his house one by one until finally, 70 people were crammed into the 150-square-metre house.

After 10 days, as Iraqi security forces came within metres of the home, all the families fleeing took the gamble to run towards them. It was just in time; half an hour later, ISIS militants stormed into the house and set the first floor ablaze, a tactic used to mislead the fighter jets screaming by overhead.

Afterwards, an exchange of fire broke out between security forces and the militants stationed in the house. It was then partially flattened by an air strike.

Unable to return to his house, the father of four kept moving from one place to another for almost a year until paying rent became too much of a burden.

He spent more than 15 million Iraqi dinars (about $10,000) to rebuild the house and bought new furniture, but that did not make it safe.

The house still suffers from structural damage. Cracks are clearly visible on the walls and ceiling, letting in water from a leaking storage tank on the roof. Parts of the stairs are pulling away from the walls.

“I just wanted to have the walls stand again by any means so that we can live in it again,” the blacksmith said.

In early 2019, he applied for reparation funds but only 10 million Iraqi dinar (about $6,800) was approved for him, two years later.

“We are still waiting for the rest of the reparations,” he said.

Red tape

The conflict between 2014 and 2017 left about 138,000 houses damaged or destroyed in seven provinces, with half of them damaged beyond repair, according to an assessment by the Iraqi government and the World Bank.

Among the seven governorates, Nineweh — where Mosul is the capital ― has the largest share of the housing damage with an estimated reconstruction cost that ranges between six and eight trillion dinar ($ 5.1 billion to $6.9 bn), the report says.

Of the total houses damaged, 54,000 are in Mosul and surrounding areas, the majority in the Old City on the western side of Mosul where the heaviest fighting took place.

As the dust settled, the UN and non-government organisations started to rehabilitate houses and key public services to prepare the ground for displaced families to return.

The responsibility for reparations has primarily been assumed by the Iraqi government, but the process gets delayed owing to unwieldy bureaucracy and a lack of money.

“The administrative complexity and red tape in wrapping up the reparation claims is the main reason,” Deputy Governor for Planning Affairs Raad Al Abasi told The National.

Mr Al Abasi said the process goes into “long and complicated measures” including assessments from the police, other security agencies and the courts in Mosul, before claims are sent to Baghdad for more scrutiny.

“That process takes more than a year and if the citizen is lucky enough, he’ll get it within a year,” he said.

Of nearly 75,000 requests filed, only about 11,000 have received their money, he said.

The province was entitled to only about $1.4 million a month for reparations, but that has been raised to about $88.5m for the whole of 2021, he said.

On Saturday, the local government announced that Baghdad would release about $93.2m for this year. The funds are expected to be distributed in July and August.

To be eligible for reparations, citizens must first file a claim before starting rehabilitating their houses, he said.

Those who rebuilt their houses before filing a claim will then subsequently have to prove the extent of damage by showing photos and are unlikely to get compensation, he said.

Among them is Osama Munthir.

In the ruins of the Old City, the house of a barber that sustained damage from a mortar projectile and a rocket, stands out with few others.

The house has undergone a facelift with fresh yellow and maroon colours. A pair of green lovebirds twitter in a cage hung on the wall of the narrow open courtyard hung with planting basins.

“The reparation takes time and we had to start rehabilitation to return,” Mr Munthir, 20, said. “Unfortunately, I have no proof of the damage,” he said.

Waiting list

The rehabilitation efforts are focusing on properties with less damage, rather than those that were completely wrecked, such as Bashar Mohammed Salih’s home.

Sitting atop his flattened home, Mr Salih remembered with bitterness how his house was once chosen as a place to record a video clip for a folk song.

Like other traditional houses in the Old City, the house consisted of an open courtyard overlooked by corridor walkways and flanked by wings of the building, with distinctive Islamic arches on the lower floor.

The arches were decorated with floral designs, built from the city's much loved alabaster, known as Mosul marble.

By the house's remains, the main door still has two grey, marble columns with two lions on top, sitting opposite each other. A planting basin stands between them marked with the date 1950.

When the battle started he stayed behind to protect the house and family possessions that were stored in the basement, which he believes were worth at least $150,000.

But ISIS militants forced him to leave the house, turning it into a factory for explosive-laden belts to use in suicide attacks.

From the other side of the river, “I was seeing the bombardments on our house and hearing the continuous explosions of the [explosive-laden] belts", Mr Salih, 53, told The National. Now the building is uninhabitable.

“There is nothing, no reconstruction and we really got tired,” the fisherman and father of one said.

Whenever he sets foot among the damaged, mostly empty houses, the scene “sets my heart ablaze and fills it with sorrow”, he says.

“Five years passed now and we are paying rent and no one is thinking about us."

Updated: July 07, 2022, 7:37 PM
NEWSLETTERS
MORE FROM THE NATIONAL