The largest and longest urban battle fought anywhere in the world since World War II was waged to retake Mosul from ISIS. Liberty came at a horrific price: Thousands of civilians were killed and large swathes of the Iraqi city were reduced to rubble.
Much of East Mosul was spared, but the West still lies in ruins a year after the end of the fighting. As I stood there, it felt as if the guns fell silent only yesterday.
If we’ve learned anything from the last decade in the Middle East and Afghanistan, it is that if a military “win” is not followed by effective help to ensure stability, then the cycle of violence only continues.
You’d think, therefore, that nothing could be more important in this situation than trying to make sure that violent extremism can never return to Mosul. You’d expect that rebuilding a city that was an icon of diversity, peaceful coexistence and cultural heritage would be a top priority. You’d imagine that the streets of West Mosul would be crammed with reconstruction equipment, de-miners, architects, planners, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations and world heritage experts providing technical assistance to Iraq on a master plan for the reconstruction of the city.
But a year later, West Mosul lies abandoned, ruined and apocalyptic. Walls that remain standing are riddled with holes from mortar fire and bullets. The streets are eerily quiet: hundreds of thousands of former residents of the city are living in camps or nearby communities because there is nothing for them to go back to. Reeking corpses still litter the ruins, awaiting collection.
In streets that look entirely uninhabitable, small numbers of shell-shocked families are clearing the rubble of their homes with their bare hands, braving the concealed explosives left behind. In the last week, there was an explosion in a house that killed and injured 27 people.