MOSUL, Iraq: A shopkeeper sits at wholesale foodstuffs store at the Cornish shopping street in Iraq’s second city of Mosul, in the northern Nineveh province. – AFP

MOSUL: Iraqi shopkeeper Ahmad Riad is busy again serving customers at a Mosul market four years after the city was destroyed in battles against jihadists, but he still awaits war reparations. “Life has gradually resumed,” said Riad, who runs a shop selling rice, pasta and tins of tomato paste in the Corniche market, along the banks of the Tigris river.

“But we have not received any compensation from the government.” Mosul, the country’s second city in Nineveh province, was the last major Iraqi bastion of the Islamic State group’s failed “caliphate” between 2014 and 2017. The city was retaken by the Iraqi army and a US-led coalition after intense bombardment and fighting that left it in ruins. The market was “devastated” in the battles, Riad said, with shopkeepers using their limited savings to rebuild.

“We are the ones who paid,” he said. Of the 400 stalls that once crammed the market, just a tenth have returned to business, he added. According to official sources, the cost of reconstruction for Nineveh would top $100 billion, a staggering sum for a country mired in an economic crisis. It outstrips the total annual budget of oil-rich Iraq, which stands at nearly $90 billion in 2021. Many buildings are still in ruins, their facades dotted with bullet holes and piles of rubble lie strewn all around.

100,000 claims, 2,600 paid
When Pope Francis visited Mosul last March, he held a mass with the partially collapsed walls of the centuries-old church behind him. On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to visit Mosul, a day after attending a regional summit in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, some 355 kilometres (220 miles) to the south. Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, is a melting pot of diverse ethnic communities and was once one of the key cities on the Middle East trade route, lying close to both Turkey and Syria. Ammar Hussein runs a restaurant.

“The government should compensate the merchants who suffered damage so that they can rebuild their stores and the market can return to its former glory,” he said. The list of claims is long. Some 100,000 claims have been filed by those who suffered damage during “liberation operations”, according to Mahmud al-Akla, director of Nineveh’s compensation department.

Not even three percent have been paid: While more than 65,000 files have been examined, just 2,600 claimants have received cash, he said. On top of that, the centralised nature of the Iraqi state — and the graft-riddled bureaucracy that governs it — means that disbursements are paid out extremely slowly. Mosul district chairman Zuhair al-Araji blames officials in Baghdad.

Promises as elections approach
Progress is patchy. While 80 percent of basic in frastructure such as sewers and roads have been restored, only around a third of health facilities have been rebuilt, according to Araji. Mosul resident Saad Ghanem filed a claim for his destroyed home. “As far as I know, the compensation department in Nineveh finalised the transaction and then submitted it to the government in Baghdad,” he said. “They still have not compensated us.”

Mosul, a Sunni Muslim city, did not take part in October 2019 popular protests decrying corruption and government misuse of power in Baghdad, as well as much of the country’s Shiite south. Residents said they feared the benefit of reconstruction could be wiped out by the unrest. With parliamentary elections in two months, the slow pace of reconstruction prompted Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi to visit earlier this month.

Kadhemi said he was “sorry” to see the problems, ordering a committee to draw up an “action plan”. At his wooden furniture store, carpenter Ali Mahmoud said he is exhausted. “I hope to rebuild my workshop, which was my livelihood, and return here,” he said. “But I don’t have enough money.” – AFP