Why aren't Mosul residents returning to liberated areas?

The residents of Mosul, especially the middle class, are leaving the city in large-scale numbers and have no hope of returning.

al-monitor People shop at Nabi Yunus market after returning to their homes in the city of Mosul, Iraq, March 19, 2017.  Photo by REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal.

Topics covered

is, terror attacks, ninevah province, reconstruction, erbil, doctors, displacement, mosul

Mar 27, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq — The Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced March 20 that the number of residents displaced from Mosul has risen to 355,000 since the start of the liberation in October 2016, with the number set to increase. Meanwhile, only 81,000 displaced residents have returned to liberated areas.

People are increasingly flocking to the Directorate of the National Security Service in the Bartala area in eastern Mosul to obtain security permits to travel or flee to other Iraqi provinces. Such permits prove to a certain point that their holders are not members of the Islamic State (IS) and do not work with it.

“Between 1,000 and 1,500 permits were being issued on a daily basis in January 2017 to citizens of the [eastern Mosul] areas, including large numbers of employees,” a security source from the Mosul Security Directorate told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

During the years of IS control, most of the Mosul population opted to stay in their homes to show resistance against IS. Some residents even described those who left the city as “weak.” However, they now seek to escape as soon as the chance arises.

Ferial al-Mosuli, the director of a secondary school for girls, opted to stay in Mosul to prevent IS from seizing her house. “Many more people left Mosul after the liberation than during IS’ occupation because of the lack of clean water and electricity.”

Mosuli added, “We do not have enough teachers; most of them are still in [Kurdistan], and only 65 students are left in our school out of 700."

Some of the Mosul residents who lived in areas that are now liberated have chosen not to return to these areas, especially those working in the health and education fields, as they settled with their families in Kurdistan, Baghdad or outside Iraq.

“I do not think I'm ever returning to Mosul, especially since I established my clinic and medical center in Erbil, and my house in Mosul has been taken over and destroyed,” Dr. Saadallah al-Ghanim, who has at least 25 years of experience working with cancerous tumors, told Al-Monitor.

In Erbil, one cannot help but notice the large number of doctors whose medical signs carry the Mosul Medical College logo. These are doctors who are well-known by Mosul residents and consult with patients from various Iraqi provinces. This comes amid a scarcity of medical personnel in the eastern areas of Mosul that have been under the control of the Iraqi security forces for almost three months. At least three huge hospitals, most notably Al Salam Teaching Hospital and Al Khansaa Hospital for pediatrics and maternity care, have been destroyed. These institutions have yet to receive financial support for their rehabilitation.

The Ministry of Health had issued an administrative order earlier to force its displaced personnel to return to their liberated areas, but it subsequently issued an order for the personnel to wait until the liberation of Mosul is complete.

“I will be back if the ministry pays my 2½ years' unpaid salaries, but I am not going to be asked to return without having a source of income for my family,” Safaa, a nurse who has been displaced to the Kurdistan region, told Al-Monitor.

“The Ministry of Health has not managed to pay the salaries of Mosul's 10,000 employees in the liberated areas,” head of the parliamentary health committee Fares al-Breifkani said during a parliamentary session last week.

Najla Mohammed, a teacher at the University of Mosul in Sulaimaniyah in northern Iraq, said, “My return to Mosul will mean starting from scratch in a city that is in constant conflict, and I would have to rebuild the house, buy furniture and take care of many details.”

“The colleges at the university are completely destroyed, so I asked for a long four-year leave. I won’t be paid much, but I will be safe,” she added.

During the formulation of the 2017 austerity budget at the end of 2016, the Iraqi Council of Representatives had voted on a decision to grant a four-year leave to all employees in return for a nominal salary.

As the liberation of the western side of Mosul is ongoing, security breaches continue in the eastern and northern parts as IS uses drones and mortar rockets to target civilians and Iraqi forces. Most recently, there were rocket attacks in the Rashidiyah area, and no less than 20 people were killed in March, according to a medical source at the Zahra Center in eastern Mosul.

Salman Mahmood, a local police officer, told Al-Monitor, “The presence of sleeper cells is worrying.” He added that recently "an unknown person threw an explosive device near my house, while I live in a liberated area.”

He said, “Extremists see me as an apostate, and this puts my life at stake — and my family is always threatened. I'm actually thinking of leaving the city.”

“Until this very day, the Iraqi parliament has not declared the city of Mosul a disaster zone, even though its eastern part is completely destroyed with houses that fell on their inhabitants,” Intisar al-Jubouri, a parliament member in Ninevah province, told Al-Monitor.

He added, “Emptying the city of its residents and advanced staff, such as doctors and teachers, is disturbing, and the failure to provide salaries and food for civilians is what is prompting residents to leave the city.”

Jubouri pointed out that two funds have been formed. The first aims to restore stability in Ninevah province and implement about 60 projects with the support of the United Nations, and the second is a reconstruction fund in which funds have been secured from the budget, international loans and grants. The funds will begin operating following the end of military operations.

In light of growing administrative corruption, low oil prices, rising anti-IS war expenses and a large budget deficit amounting to more than $20 billion, how will the Iraqi government manage to reconstruct Ninevah province and convince its people to return?

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