By Hattie Williams
Churches, charities, and relief agencies have warned of the “long road ahead” for the children of Mosul, in Iraq, after the city was retaken from the Islamic State (IS) by Iraqi government forces, this week.
The Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, visited Mosul on Monday, where he declared victory over IS, congratulated government troops, and called for unity, as civilians on the east side celebrated in the streets.
But, after years of IS control, the lives of its children had been “shattered” — and, for many, there would be a “long road ahead” to heal from untold violence, the Christian international aid agency, World Vision, has said. Schools must be rebuilt, teachers supported, and children in camps outside the city must continue to be offered emotional counselling, the agency says.
Mosul was occupied by IS in June 2014. More than 900,000 people have been displaced from the city since the conflict with Iraqi forces began last October.
”While some people see this as the end of a crisis, the work is just beginning,” the response manager for World Vision Iraq, Ian Dawes, said.
“The lives of children and their families have been torn apart after years of IS rule and months of fighting to retake the city. The level of destruction on all levels is immense.
”Before people return home, there will need to be reconstruction of homes and the most basic infrastructure, like water, and electricity, while communities will also be in dire need of healing and reconciliation so that displaced people can return to their communities.”
The World Council of Churches (WCC) called for a commitment to restoring the social and religious diversity of the city and surrounding region. Its director of international affairs, Peter Prove, said: “While every right-minded person in the world must surely welcome the reduction and removal of the inhumanly brutal IS regime, reports of the loss of life, displacement of its inhabitants, and the devastation of the city indicate that it has come at a terrible cost.
”The further suffering of its people and the destruction of the physical city are now added to the toll of IS’s extremist violence. The members of the international com¬munity have an ethical, moral, and legal responsibility to provide all necessary support to the governmental authorities of Iraq, nationally and regionally.”
A spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, Melany Markham, said that rebuilding schools and universities came with its own issues. She told Vatican Radio: “One of the huge problems for us is the number of unexploded bombs and landmines throughout the city. It’s estimated that around 30 per cent of schools have some kind of unexploded ordinance in there; so we can’t go back into those places and rebuild until they’ve been removed.”
Mosul had also been cut off from food, water, and medical supplies, which were among the other major needs of civilians, particularly in the west of the city, she said. But communities had none the less shown “tremendous resilience” in the face of adversity.
The international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse said that its response would build on nearly a decade of continuous work in northern Iraq, where it had served those affected by the Anfal campaign of Saddam Hussein.
”We are committed to serve the people of northern Iraq for the long term,” a statement said. “Children’s programmes, medical care, and other projects for those displaced by IS have hallmarked our efforts to provide relief in Jesus’ Name. Our Christian presence is welcomed in Iraq as an agent of peace between conflicting Shi’a and Sunni Muslims.”
A spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, promised to support displaced communities with aid. “The recovery of Mosul is a significant step in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.”
The UN would help the government to provide a “voluntary, safe, and dignified return” for the displaced communities; restore the law; and safeguard against further violence. It estimated that more than £430 million in aid would be needed for the recovery.
But partners of the Christian charity Open Doors, said that many Iraqi Christians in Mosul who wish to return to the city, fear that the ideology of IS may remain there even after the militants have dispersed. One local Christian said: “They are afraid that IS ideas remain alive, just under a different name.”
Open Doors is asking people to sign its “One Million Voices of Hope” petition, which is to be presented to the UN in December. It calls on the UN to provide Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq with “dignified” living conditions, equal citizenship, and a part to play in bringing reconciliation to their communities.