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Iraq year in review: the country may be free of ISIL but lies in ruins
Erratic electricity and water supplies, no schools or hospitals and rampant corruption in the country's leadership means the battle for survival for ordinary Iraqis is as hard as ever

by Florian Neuhof
December 25, 2017

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The destruction in Sinjar pictured on November 24, 2017. Raya Jalabi /Reuters


At the foot of the craggy ridge line that slashes across the plains of northern Iraq, the devastated town of Sinjar is slowly repopulating. Crammed into their battered old cars, families pull up to houses they left in haste more than over three years ago, and have not seen since. With a home to return to, they are the fortunate ones.

Many of their neighbours are not so lucky. Sinjar sparked an international outcry in August 2014, when ISIL stormed the town and the surrounding area to kill and enslave the local Yazidi population. In response, the US began its bombing campaign to curb and reverse the terrorist group's headlong advance against a crumbling Iraqi military. Air support by the US-led coalition allowed the Iraqis to beat back and ultimately defeat ISIL in a war culminating in the bloody nine-month battle for the city of Mosul, during which bombs flattened large swathes of the city.

Sinjar, the genesis of the air campaign against ISIL, did not have to wait that long for its destruction. By the time ISIL pulled out of the town ahead of advancing Kurdish forces in November 2015, the historic town centre had been reduced to rubble.

Piles of masonry are all that remains of elegant old structures. The adjacent residential areas lie derelict. Houses and shops have been looted by Kurds and Yazidis, the hospital stripped of its equipment and schools remain dormant. Electricity comes only from diesel-fired generators. The threat of improvised explosive devices — homemade explosive booby traps — still lingers. Nothing has been rebuilt.

Across Iraq, liberated towns, cities and villages have suffered a similar fate. Some, like Mosul or desert towns like Al Qaim near the Syrian border, have only recently been wrested from the extremists. Others, like Fallujah, retaken by the Iraqi military in the spring of 2015, still wait for essential services to be restored, and homes to be rebuilt.

The reason for the snail-paced recovery is a lack of funds. ISIL's conquest of Mosul in June 2014 coincided with a precipitous drop in the oil price, which halved to around $50 (Dh184) a barrel, where it continues to hover. The Iraqi government derives almost all its revenue from oil sales. This has left it financially hamstrung throughout the war on the terror group, and unable to foot the bill for rebuilding the country.

But Sinjar's woes are not down to finances alone. The city lies in territory claimed by both the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad. The KRG had de facto annexed the town and its surroundings prior to the ISIL attack, and it fell back to the Kurds after the terror group had been evicted. This precluded Iraqi government money being spent on reconstruction.

The cash-strapped KRG was also unable to deliver, even if it had wanted to, which it did not. The KRG had competed with a rival Kurdish group, the PKK, for control of Sinjar, so it was reluctant to revive the town, fearing that its influence would wane if it inhabitants to return, so tens of thousands of Yazidis remained moored in displacement camps on Kurdish territory.

In October, Iraqi militia groups swept the Kurds away from the Sinjar area, prompting some Yazidi residents to return. Known as the Hashed Al Shaabi, the predominantly Shiite militias are allied with Baghdad, but many also have close ties to Iran, and follow Tehran's bidding. They have moved into Sinjar to create a land corridor connecting Iran to Syria, but have done little to help the town get back on its feet. Tension between the Kurds and the militias prevents NGOs and aid from reaching the area, and Baghdad's purse remains closed. Synonymous with the horrors of the self-proclaimed ISIL "caliphate", Sinjar also embodies the debilitating instability of the post-war chaos.

A little more than 100 kilometres to the east of Sinjar lies Mosul. The city's fortunes are divided by the Tigris, which bisects the city into east and west. Iraqi forces first liberated the east bank of the river in January. Since then, the rubble has been cleared, bomb craters in roads filled in and a water main repaired. Many schools have reopened, and shops and showrooms selling anything from groceries to fitted kitchens are doing a brisk trade. By day, the roads are choked with traffic. By night, the brightly-lit restaurants are filled with families dining out.
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Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walk down a street in Raqqa after a Kurdish-led force expelled ISIL fighters from the northern Syrian city, formerly their "capital". Bulent Kilic / AFP

By the time the military began its assault on West Mosul, its best units had been depleted, and it was forced to rely on heavy coalition air and artillery support to advance. When the fighting ended in July, much of the West Bank had been levelled, and little has been rebuilt since. While the east thrives, the west lies shattered.

Whatever the extent of any progress, the overall situation remains dire. Air strikes and fierce fighting gutted the two main hospitals. All five bridges crossing the Tigris have been destroyed. The UN in July estimated that it will cost $1bn to repair basic infrastructure alone.

This is just a fraction of what is needed to undo the damage wrought by three years of war.

Iraq's planning minister Salman Al Jumaili in May announced a plan for the reconstruction of areas liberated from ISIL. Over the next 10 years, $100bn will be spent on rebuilding the country.

But Iraq's budget recorded a deficit equal to an estimated 13.9 per cent of GDP in 2016. Rampant corruption and an absurdly bloated and inefficient public sector devour the lion's share of state revenues, and oil continues to sell at low prices. With Iraq unable to shoulder the financial burden of reconstruction itself, much of the funding for this scheme will have to come from abroad. Securing such amounts of foreign investment will be a huge challenge for the government.

Saudi Arabia has taken the initiative, setting up a "joint co-ordination council" with Iraq in October. The goal is not only to help with the reconstruction effort, but also to reduce Iran's influence in Baghdad.

As an important ally in the war on ISIL, Tehran's sway in Iraq has increased in the last three years, most notably through nurturing powerful Shiite militia groups.

Because ISIL failed to advance into Iraq's Shiite heartlands, it is the Sunni-majority areas that bore the brunt of the fighting. If the government fails to deliver on reconstruction, the sectarian faultlines are likely to widen again, and Sunni resentment could revive ISIL or spawn a successor. Money raised through the Saudi initiative would be spent on these Sunni areas. Neglect of those areas by the Shiite-dominated government before 2014 was a significant factor in the rise of ISIL. But Saudi efforts might be opposed by Iran, which is unwilling to let its geopolitical rival gain leverage in Iraq.

The war also rekindled Kurdish aspirations for independence. Keen to capitalise on its stellar international image and Baghdad's weakness, the KRG held a referendum on secession from Iraq in September. But the move backfired, as Iraqi forces pushed the Kurds out of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other areas they had annexed in 2014.

Without Kirkuk, the KRG lacked the economic basis for independence. The Kurds also discovered that Iran and Turkey opposed secession, leaving the landlocked autonomous zone without access to the outside world. The setback plunged the KRG into deep political crisis. Internal divisions between rival parties will leave it too weak to push for independence for years to come, a rare success for a central government struggling to assert its authority.

After ISIL was finally flushed out of the areas bordering Syria, prime minister Haider Al Abadi on December 9 announced final victory over the extremist group, sparking nationwide celebrations. However, ISIL might be defeated, but it is not gone. It will continue to kill Iraqis in bomb attacks or raids launched from sparsely populated desert areas.

In place of ISIL's self-declared caliphate, which at one point spanned a third of Iraq, is a country more divided than ever, led by a government that is vulnerable to internal challengers and unable to resist outside interference. With much of Iraq in ruins, geopolitical rivalries threaten to undermine its recovery, and internal tensions threaten to push it back into violent chaos.



https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/iraq-year-in-review-the-country-may-be-free-of-isil-but-lies-in-ruins-1.690394
 

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U.S military force mission in Iraq under Trump presidency Farsi subtitle

 

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Despite full reservoirs, Iraq water crisis far from over
May 01, 2019

A canal with low water level at the Al-Mashahada pumping station in Baghdad. (AFP)

AFP

  • At another overgrown station nearby, a main tank leaks a steady stream, day and night

AL-MASHAHADA, IRAQ: After plentiful winter rains, Iraq is heading into summer with overflowing reservoirs and lush marshes. But don’t be fooled, observers warn: Its water woes and related protests are not over.

Far from last year’s shortages, “the land between the two rivers” is expected to hold 42 billion cubic meters in its reservoirs at the start of summer,
more than twice the 2018 amount.

But that has not washed away longstanding challenges: Poor infrastructure, few funds, sharing disputes with neighbors, climate change and population booms.

Nestled between palms and tall reeds north of Baghdad, the Al-Mashahada pumping station is punched through with bullet holes, its metal pipes and cisterns rusted.

Broken plastic pipes litter the dirt road leading up to it.

At another overgrown station nearby, a main tank leaks a steady stream, day and night.

These stations are par for the course in Iraq, whose water infrastructure dates back decades and has been worn by consecutive wars, sanctions blocking spare part imports, the US-led invasion and finally, Daesh.

Parts of the network were installed over 60 years ago in soil that can be corrosive when wet, said Iraqi environmental expert Azzam Alwash.
“So you have a network with corroded pipes full of holes,” he said, that could leak out as much as 60-70 percent of pumped water before it reaches households or farmlands.

Once there, it is hardly used responsibly, with farmers relying on wasteful flood irrigation and families leaving taps running unnecessarily.
The UN estimates Iraq’s daily per capita water consumption is nearly double the world standard of 200 liters (52 gallons).

In 2014, Iraq prepared a 20-year, $180-billion plan to manage its water crisis. But it was stillborn, as Daesh seized a third of the country the same year and money was diverted to fight it.

“We’ve needed a new station for years, but the funding totally froze in 2014 for military purposes,” said Ahmad Mahmud, who heads Al-Mashahada’s water resources.

Despite Daesh’s defeat in 2017, promised funds never came, he told AFP, and a new station is now being built by UN children’s agency UNICEF.
“I couldn’t afford pipes without them,” Mahmud admitted.

Mehdi Rasheed, who heads Iraq’s dam projects, said the ministry’s budget was “almost zero” as Iraq fought Daesh.

Last summer, massive protests over water shortages put the spotlight squarely on services, and Iraq’s government appeared to take notice.

It allocated nearly $760 million to the Water Ministry for this year — about 60 percent higher than for 2018.
“It’s reassuring, but it’s just a good start,” Mehdi said.

It remains one of the smallest ministerial budgets, around 15 times less than the Electricity Ministry.

Even Iraq’s premier has admitted the water systems are not ready for summer, when temperatures in Iraq can reach a blistering 55 degrees Celsius.
“I would not be faithful if I said infrastructure is ready to receive all this,” Adel Abdel Mahdi said, speaking in English.
Iraq’s shortages can also be sourced beyond its borders.

Roughly 70 percent of its water originates from its neighbors, according to the International Energy Agency, with the Euphrates winding from

Turkey through Syria, while the Tigris — also from Turkey — is fed by rivers from Iran.

As Turkey and Iran have developed their own dams and reservoirs, flows to Iraq have dropped.

“We used to get about 15 billion cubic meters of water a year from Iran, we no longer get that,” due to dams and rerouted rivers, said Alwash, the expert.

And when Turkey fills its massive Ilisu dam, levels in the Tigris are expected to sink even further.

Iraq is negotiating with both neighbors to reach water-sharing agreements, but its position as a receiving country gives it little leverage.

Grinding on slowly behind the man-made disasters is climate change, with the World Bank predicting more severe droughts for Iraq starting in 2020.

“One year we have to deal with a drought, the next year we have floods. This is the climate extremism we see worldwide,” said Kareem Hassan, manager of the massive Tharthar barrage north of Baghdad.

Despite Hassan’s nod to climate change, his answer to how Iraq should respond was less reassuring: “It was God’s will to bless us with rain this year, so we’ll see what next year brings.”

The apparent lack of planning is stark, considering Iraq’s population of 40 million is projected to grow by another 10 million before 2030.

That will leave the country with a 37 percent deficit in its water supply, according to the Iraq Energy Institute.

That gap was already on Mahmud’s mind as he looked at the fresh paint on Al-Mashahada’s UN-funded station.
“It’s great now, for the 300 families here. But in three years, there will be double that number here,” he said.

 

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U.S. pulls staff from Iraq amid concerns over Iran
May 15, 2019
John Davison, Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Washington ordered the departure of non-emergency American employees from its diplomatic missions in Iraq on Wednesday in another show of concern about alleged threats from Iran.

President Donald Trump’s administration is applying new sanctions pressure on Tehran and sending additional forces to the Middle East to counter what it says is a heightened threat from Iran to U.S. soldiers and interests in the region.

Iran calls that “psychological warfare”, and a British commander cast doubt on U.S. military concerns about threats to its roughly 5,000 soldiers in Iraq, who have been helping local security forces fight Islamic State jihadists.

The U.S. State Department said employees at both the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, capital of semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, were being pulled out immediately due to safety concerns.

It was unclear how many personnel were affected, and there was no word on any specific threat. Visa services were suspended at the heavily-fortified U.S. missions.

“Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and citizens is our highest priority ... and we want to reduce the risk of harm,” a State Department spokesman said.

Also on Wednesday, Germany, which has 160 soldiers in Iraq, suspended military training operations, citing increasing regional tensions. And the Netherlands suspended a mission providing assistance to Iraqi local authorities, Dutch news agency ANP said.

“DANGEROUS SITUATION”
Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he had indications “things will end well” despite the rhetoric.

Iraq has said it will keep strong ties with Iran, but also with the United States and regional neighbours, some of whom, like Saudi Arabia, consider Tehran an arch-rival.

“I think we are now in a quite dangerous situation where a miscalculation by either side could lead us into conflict,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN in an interview on Wednesday.

“When you project force into a very volatile region and you’ve got real tension between Iran and the Saudis — we have to be careful. We need a strategy,” Coons said, echoing a call by Congress for the government to brief lawmakers.

The State Department reissued travel advisory for Iraq saying U.S. citizens were at high risk of violence and kidnapping. “Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq,” it said.

A senior Iranian official said on Wednesday that any conflict in the region will have “unimaginable consequences.”

Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Additional reporting by Susan Heavy and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Raya Jalabi and John Davison; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Cawthorne

 

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Netherlands suspends government mission in Iraq over security threat: ANP agency
May 15, 2019 / Updated an hour ago

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government has suspended a mission in Iraq that provides assistance to local authorities due to a security threat, Dutch news agency ANP reported on Wednesday.

Dutch military personal help train Iraqi forces in Erbil, northern Iraq, along with other foreign troops.

The report gave no details about the nature of the threat.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling; editing by John Stonestreet

 

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Berlin: We're not reducing number of embassy staffers in Iraq for now
May 15, 2019 / Updated 27 minutes ago

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is keeping the number of staff at its embassy and consulate in Iraq constant for now, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday after Washington ordered the departure of non-emergency government employees from Iraq.

Washington took that step after repeated U.S. expressions of concern about threats from Iranian-backed forces.

A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the German Embassy in Baghdad was fully staffed and working.

Germany’s Defence Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that training operations by German armed forces in Iraq had been suspended due to tensions in the region.

(Story was corrected to say Baghdad (not Tehran) in paragraph 3)

Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Michelle Martin/Mark Heinrich

 

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Rocket Attack Hits Baghdad's Green Zone
19 May, 2019

A general view of cars at the Al-Shurja Market in Baghdad, Iraq April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Asharq Al-Awsat

A rocket was fired into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone but caused no casualties, the Iraqi military said on Sunday.

"A Katyusha rocket fell in the middle of the Green Zone without causing any losses," the military said in a statement.

Alert sirens sounded briefly in Baghdad after the explosion was heard, according to Associated Press reporters on the east side of the Tigris River.

The Green Zone is home to government headquarters and the US Embassy.

The attack comes amid heightened tensions across the Arabian Gulf, after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter the Iranian threat. The US also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.


 
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