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News Story
Updated: 12/29/2017 01:19:00AM

Few ready to pay to rebuild Iraq after Islamic State defeat

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In this Nov. 18, 2017 photo, construction workers carry a generator as a bulldozer remove debris from destroyed shops in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. Along the neighborhood’s gutted roads, a handful of people are beginning to rebuild but the task ahead will take years _ and billions of dollars. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 16, 2017 photo, a boy who recently returned to the Old City walks past a destroyed building near his house in Mosul, Iraq. The U.N. estimates around 40,000 homes will need to be rebuilt or restored in Mosul, which faces the longest path to rebuilding of all the Iraqi cities freed from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 15, 2017 photo, Haider, left, and Abdullah carry belongings they collected from their damaged house to wash before returning to live in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. While 2.7 million Iraqis have returned to lands seized back from Islamic State, more than 3 million others cannot. Of those around 600,000 are from Mosul. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 16, 2017 photo, Yahya Ali, right and Haifa Shehab, look through the rubble in their house in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. The U.N. estimates around 40,000 homes will need to be rebuilt or restored in Mosul, which faces the longest path to rebuilding of all the Iraqi cities freed from Islamic State fighters. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 16, 2017 photo, Mohammed Tahar, right, and his grandson Mustafa Hansen, remove debris from the sidewalk leading to their house in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. While 2.7 million Iraqis have returned to lands seized back from Islamic State, more than 3 million others cannot. Of those around 600,000 are from Mosul. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 14, 2017 photo, a young construction worker smiles during a break as he rebuilds a destroyed shop in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. The U.N. estimates around 40,000 homes will need to be rebuilt or restored in Mosul, which faces the longest path to rebuilding of all the Iraqi cities freed from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 14, 2017 photo, shop keeper Zyad Mohammed Ali, walks inside a damaged spa 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)

In this Nov. 16, 2017 photo, children and women carry metal scraps they collected from the rubble in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. Lacking enough funds from the government or international community, Iraqis have begun to rebuild on their own, dipping into savings and borrowing from friends and family. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 16, 2017 photo, the sun sets behind damaged buildings in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. The U.N. estimates around 40,000 homes will need to be rebuilt or restored in Mosul, which faces the longest path to rebuilding of all the Iraqi cities freed from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 15, 2017 photo, boys, one of them carrying a toy gun, walk on the empty streets of the Old City, in Mosul, Iraq. The cost to rebuild after driving out the Islamic State group will be enormous. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide _ while local leaders in Mosul, the group’s largest urban stronghold, say that same amount is what’s needed in their city alone. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 14, 2017 photo, a construction worker stands in the destroyed old bazaar 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)

In this Nov. 15, 2017 photo, Ahmed Maha sits with his face covered in dirty after a day of work removing debris from a shop in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. Lacking enough funds from the government or international community, Iraqis have begun to rebuild on their own, dipping into savings and borrowing from friends and family. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 15, 2017 photo, construction workers gather on a commercial street 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)

In this Nov. 14, 2017 photo, a construction worker climb the stairs of a destroyed shop 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)

In this Nov. 18, 2017 photo, workers repair the door of a shop in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 16, 2017 photo, Mustafa Hansen, left, helps his father Ahmed Mohammed, center, and his grandfather Mohammed Tahar, clear the alley leading to their house in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. Lacking enough funds from the government or international community, Iraqis have begun to rebuild on their own, dipping into savings and borrowing from friends and family. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 18, 2017 photo, shop owner Abu Azar sits outside a destroyed bazaar in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. The cost to rebuild after driving out the Islamic State group will be enormous. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide _ while local leaders in Mosul, the group’s largest urban stronghold, say that same amount is what’s needed in their city alone. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 18, 2017 photo, a construction worker walks amid a cloud of dust as a bulldozer remove debris from destroyed shops in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. The cost to rebuild after driving out the Islamic State group will be enormous. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide _ while local leaders in Mosul, the group’s largest urban stronghold, say that same amount is what’s needed in their city alone. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

In this Nov. 18, 2017 photo, construction workers stand atop damaged buildings 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)

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)

This satellite image released by DigitalGlobe shows the Old City of Mosul, Iraq on July 8, 2017 after a punishing nine month battle to oust Islamic State militants. Three years of war devastated much of northern and western Iraq. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild. Local leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by IS, say that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone. (DigitalGlobe via AP)

This satellite image released by DigitalGlobe shows what remains of the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq on July 8, 2017. Three years of war devastated much of northern and western Iraq. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild. Local leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by IS, say that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone. (DigitalGlobe via AP)

COMBO - This combination of two satellite image released by DigitalGlobe shows the Old City of Mosul, Iraq on July 8, 2017 after a punishing nine month battle to oust Islamic State militants, left, and on Nov. 13, 2015, right. Three years of war devastated much of northern and western Iraq. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild. Local leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by IS, say that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone. (DigitalGlobe via AP)

COMBO - This combination of two satellite image released by DigitalGlobe shows the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq on July 8, 2017 after a punishing nine month battle to oust Islamic State militants, left, and on Nov. 13, 2015, right. Three years of war devastated much of northern and western Iraq. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild. Local leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by IS, say that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone. (DigitalGlobe via AP)

By SUSANNAH GEORGE and LORI HINNANT

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MOSUL, Iraq — For nearly 2½ miles along the western bank of the Tigris River, hardly a single building is intact. The warren of narrow streets of Mosul’s Old City is a crumpled landscape of broken concrete and metal. Every acre is weighed down by more than 3,000 tons of rubble, much of it laced with explosives and unexploded ordnance.

It will take years to haul away the wreckage, and this is just one corner of the destruction. The Iraqi military and U.S.-led coalition succeeded in uprooting the Islamic State group across the country, but the cost of victory is nearly incalculable.

Three years of war devastated much of northern and western Iraq. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild. Local leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by IS, say that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone.

So far no one is offering to foot the bill. The Trump administration has told the Iraqis it won’t pay for a massive reconstruction drive. Iraq hopes Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will step up, and Iran may also take a role. The U.N. is repairing some infrastructure in nearly two dozen towns and cities around Iraq, but funding for it is a fraction of what will be needed. As a result, much of the rebuilding that has happened has come from individuals using personal savings to salvage homes and shops as best they can.

Nearly every city or town in former IS territory needs repair to one degree or another. The longer it takes, the longer many of those who fled IS or the fighting remain uprooted. While 2.7 million Iraqis have returned to lands seized back from the militants, more than 3 million others cannot and they languish in camps. Worst hit is Mosul; the U.N. estimates 40,000 homes there need to be rebuilt or restored, and some 600,000 residents have been unable to return to the city, once home to around 2 million people.

Corruption and bitter sectarian divisions make things even harder. The areas with the worst destruction are largely Sunni, while the Baghdad government is Shiite-dominated. The fear is that if Sunni populations feel they’ve been abandoned and left to fend for themselves in shattered cities, the resentment will feed the next generation of militants.

“The responsibility to pay for reconstruction falls with the international community,” said Abdulsattar al-Habu, the director of Mosul municipality and reconstruction adviser to Nineveh province, where the city is located.

If Mosul is not rebuilt, he said, “it will result in the rebirth of terrorism.”

Mosul’s Old City paid the price for the Islamic State group’s last stand.

Streets are now knee-deep in rubble from destroyed homes. The few high buildings of six or seven stories have been blasted hollow, reduced to concrete frames. Shopping centers and office buildings are pancaked slabs. Almost all that is left of the 850-year-old al-Nuri mosque, blown up by IS fighters as they fled, is the stump of its famed minaret.

At the southern end of the district, the arcades of stone-arched storefronts in the historic bazaars that once sold spices, cloth and household goods are charred and gutted. Eaves that once shaded shoppers look like they were hurled into the air to land as mangled metal scattered across the cityscape. At the northern end just outside the Old City, some buildings have been blown to splinters and piles of dirt in a large medical compound that housed the College of Medicine and the Jomhouriya Hospital.

All five bridges crossing the Tigris have been disabled by airstrikes, forcing all traffic onto a single-lane temporary span linking east and west.

A debris field the same size in New York City would run from the 9/11 Memorial nearly to 18th Street and cover nearly a quarter of Manhattan south of Central Park.

There were effectively two battles for Mosul. The first, from October to February, freed the city’s east, which survived largely intact. The second pulverized the west side. There, IS dug in and the Iraqis and U.S.-led coalition upped their firepower, culminating in house-to-house fighting in the Old City. The city, which IS overran in the summer of 2014, was declared liberated in July. An Associated Press investigation found at least 9,000 civilians died in the assault to retake Mosul, most in the west.

The Old City shows the densest destruction, but nearly every neighborhood of western Mosul has blocks of blasted houses, industrial areas, government buildings and infrastructure.

It’s been more than a generation since the last comparable fight to seize a city. Military experts compare the assaults on Mosul and IS-held Raqqa in Syria to the devastating 1968 battle for the Vietnamese city of Hue.

Some look even further back. “All I can think of is Dresden, or pictures I’ve seen of World War II,” said Stephen Wood, a senior analyst at the satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe.

Along the Old City’s gutted roads, a handful of people are beginning to rebuild. Amar Ismail Brahim sold his wife’s gold to repaint his cafe. He didn’t bother asking for government aid.

Brahim ultimately blames the Islamic State group for the destruction, but he believes the obligation of reconstruction lies with the United States and other Western countries.

“We fought Daesh on behalf of the whole world,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the group. “Now is the time for them to stand with Mosul.”

The enormity of the task ahead in Mosul can be grasped by what has — and hasn’t — happened in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s western Anbar province. Two years after it was retaken from IS, more than 70 percent of the city remains damaged or destroyed, according to the provincial council.

Nearly 8,300 homes — almost a third of the houses in the city — were destroyed or suffered major damage, according to UN Habitat. All five of Ramadi’s bridges over the Euphrates River were damaged; only three are currently under repair. Three-quarters of the schools remain out of commission.

The Anbar provincial council holds its meetings in a small building down the street from the pile of rubble that was once its offices. Nearly all of Ramadi’s government buildings were blown up by the militants.

“We haven’t received a single dollar in reconstruction money from Baghdad,” said Ahmed Shaker, a council member. “When we ask the government for money to rebuild, they said: ‘Help yourself, go ask your friends in the Gulf” — a reference to fellow Sunnis.

So people in Ramadi borrow, beg and compromise.

Most of Ramadi’s pre-IS population of around a half million has returned. Restaurants and shops are reopening along main streets, and traffic churns through scores of checkpoints. Iraqi officials cite that as a sign of success.

But like many others, resident’s decision to return was out of desperation, not hope. Their savings were drained and they wore out their welcome in crowded homes with extended family or friends elsewhere.

“We had no other choice but to return,” one resident said.

‘NOT GOING TO HAPPEN’

The main engine for rebuilding has been the stabilization program run by the U.N. development agency, known as UNDP, which focuses on rehabilitating infrastructure, including roads, water and electricity systems and schools, as well as some homes.

Its daily project notices are ambitious. To clear debris from Mosul’s riverbank neighborhood of al-Madain, a single contractor must have three heavy-duty shovels, six mini dump trucks, six tractor-trailers, two excavators and 2 tons of black trash bags. The timeframe: 45 days. Workers must be locals and must earn no less than $20 a day.

But funding is far lower than what Iraq says it needs. So far, stabilization has received some $392 million in contributions. The United States has given the lion’s share, some $115 million. Germany is the second biggest donor at $64 million. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are also contributing, but no other Gulf nations are among the list of donors.

Overall, Washington has contributed $265 million to reconstruction since 2014, on top of $1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance in Iraq. That is a fraction of the $14.3 billion that the U.S. spent in fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

And it’s far less than what Iraqis hoped. Baghdad at first expected American money would flow in after the defeat of IS, said a senior U.S. official in Washington who regularly meets with Iraqi leadership. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States is no longer in the business of “nation-building.”

“We just tell them, no, it’s not going to happen,” the U.S. official said. “We have to be up front with them.”

The official said many in Washington believe past efforts in Iraq didn’t yield adequate returns and there is little appetite for large international reconstruction projects. After the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. pumped $60 billion over nine years into Iraqi reconstruction. Critics say the money did little to prevent political disarray and the rise of militants in Iraq. About $8 billion dollars of it was wasted through corruption and mismanagement, according to the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

Douglas Silliman, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, blamed the destruction of Iraqi cities squarely on IS fighters.

“Had they not been here, had they not conducted a completely brutal and inhumane campaign against the Iraqi people, this destruction would not have happened,” he said.

In mid-July, just as Mosul was declared free of IS, German Ambassador Ekkehard Brose, then co-chair of the coalition working group on stabilizing Iraq, warned against the U.S. attitude staying out of reconstruction. In a debate with an American counterpart, he said the U.S. had “a lot to answer for in the situation in Iraq.”

“Say a year after the last city’s been retaken from the IS, stabilization slowly peters out and then there’s nothing,” said Brose, whose country returned from the ashes of World War II with the help of the U.S.-led Marshall Plan. “Who fills that vacuum?”

The answer to that could be new militants, Iran or Russia, he said.

“If you like any of those options, don’t do reconstruction.”

———

Hinnant reported from Paris.


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