Plight of Iraqi man refocuses spotlight on country's slow reconstruction

Unemployed carpenter from Mosul recounts trials and tribulations in parliament

Iraqis scavenge for metal from the rubble of the destroyed seven-storey Chadirji Building, designed by celebrated Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji in the 1960s, on January 13, 2019, in the city of Mosul. Authorities in Mosul have begun demolishing a onetime icon of modern Iraqi architecture used by the Islamic State group to throw men accused of being gay to their deaths. Labourers in the city's west could be seen removing rubble and twisted metal from the gutted ruins of the National Insurance Company (NIC). The building was heavily damaged in the months-long fight to oust Islamic State (IS) from Mosul, which ended in the summer of 2017. 
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The tears of an ordinary man from Mosul have put public frustration with the government’s lacklustre progress in rebuilding the war-torn city back in the spotlight.

Large swathes of Iraq's north were reduced to rubble during the three-year occupation of ISIS and the Iraqi forces' ensuing battles to wrestle them back. But with the end of the war declared in December 2017, attention shifted to the country's spiralling unemployment and decaying infrastructure.

“Mosul is suffering, Mosul is exhausted,” Ahmed Ibrahim Mohammed told members of parliament on Saturday.

Sitting against the backdrop of four Iraqi flags and facing a group of MPs, the unemployed carpenter lamented the loss of his city.

More than 40,000 homes in Mosul have been destroyed and an estimated 700,000 people have been displaced, according to UN estimates.

Mr Mohammed’s testimony was first posted on local media, prompting Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi to invite him to Saturday's parliamentary session.

"We live in a land between the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, that has oil, how can this happen to us? How can we live like this?" Mr Mohammed said, standing on a street in Mosul.

Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led coalition, fought for nine months to retake Mosul from ISIS. The protracted assault, including artillery and air strikes, flattened large parts of the city and displaced about half of its prewar population.

The extent of the damage was immeasurable, the human toll catastrophic.

"Please help us eat," Mr Mohammed asked politicians, breaking down in tears. "There are no jobs, no adequate public services."

Mr Al Halbousi stressed the need to speed up Mosul’s reconstruction, ensure the safe return of displaced civilians and compensate those who suffered under the rule of ISIS.

But the degree of destruction coupled with deep-rooted corruption have hindered efforts to rebuild the city, Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights told The National.


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Iraq's social disaffection isn't limited to its war-torn cities. South of Mosul, in Basra, protesters took to the streets over the summer months demanding basic services such as water and electricity. Dozens of demonstrators were killed when they clashed with security forces.

In a show of support for the impoverished southern province, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mehdi on Sunday made his first trip to the city since his swearing in three months ago. He visited several sites, including healthcare centres and oilfields.

“The prime minister called for redoubled efforts so these projects can be accomplished as quickly as possible,” his office said in a statement.

Mr Abdul Mahdi had vowed to present a plan to fulfil the public’s demands within his first 100 days in office, but has yet to show tangible results as he struggles to form his cabinet.

None of the government promises over the last few months have been met, Mr Al Bayati said. "Job opportunities and unrealistic promises, as well as disagreement between Basra’s governor and members of the provincial council continue.”

There has been no process on planned water and electricity projects, he said. “Basra’s security situation is also fragile as tribal conflicts are increasing, despite some progress made after it was implemented in Article Four of Iraq’s antiterrorism act,” Mr Al Bayati said.

Meanwhile power and water shortages, as well as widespread unemployment, continue to afflict Iraqis, from Basra to Mosul.