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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

It will take years to truly win the war in Mosul

ISIL has been defeated, but rebuilding the city and restoring society will be tough

It will take more than five years and billions of dollars to restore infrastructure in Mosul. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP
It will take more than five years and billions of dollars to restore infrastructure in Mosul. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP

Three years after ISIL’s leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared his so-called caliphate from the city of Mosul, the extremist group has been ousted after a months-long and fierce military campaign. According to officials who have returned to the conflict-ravaged city, Mosul’s roads, bridges and economy will take a minimum of five years to salvage and billions of dollars worth of investment to reconstruct. The city’s airport, university and railway station were all destroyed in the battle to uproot the militants, alongside key cultural assets, including the Al Nuri Mosque, which was levelled by ISIL in the conflict’s dying days.

Given the fertile ground for extremism that exists within the region, be it from discourse, poverty or funding, the situation in Mosul will need immediate and comprehensive measures – through crisis management, emergency aid, counselling and rebuilding – to ensure extremists do not creep back into civic spaces and society.

The damage to infrastructure, homes and the economy is only what we can see. The hidden trauma inflicted on Mosul’s children will require a counselling infrastructure all of its own. As we noted last week in these pages, the long-term health and well-being of those affected by conflict in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere is of increasing concern. Those who have been exposed to the horrors of ISIL’s rule in Mosul will not easily shake them from memory. The battle may be won, but the campaign to rehabilitate young hearts and minds has only just begun. How, for instance, does one recover from seeing the decomposing bodies of men, children and women littering the streets? How does one make up for the years of absence from school or from persistent exposure to false messages and savage brutality?

Unless these young people receive counselling and rehabilitation, we risk them becoming the region’s lost generation, unable to succeed at school and work, paving the way for a new and more dangerous round of extremism. As we are all too painfully aware, terror groups thrive on misinformation and deprivation of education.

Family units will need emotional and financial support to get back on their feet. Anything short of a comprehensive

humanitarian framework being established to help them cope with their emotional wounds and low living standards will result in further strife and, probably, further conflict.

In short, the road to rehabilitation and reconstruction is long. To rebuild Mosul will require international help and, indeed, expertise on a near epic scale. Food, shelter and water are a start, but they only fulfil the most basic human needs. ISIL’s toxic years of rule have leveled buildings, state structures and societies. It has destroyed families and homes. Now is the time for the international community to put these broken pieces back together.