Mosul sowing seeds post-Islamic State

The Mosul local government in cooperation with civil society is undertaking a project to plant a million trees in Mosul.

al-monitor A woman walks in between newly planted trees in Mosul, as the war-ravaged city gets a facelift following three years of brutal rule by the Islamic State, Iraq, Jan. 23, 2019.  Photo by ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images.

Jul 21, 2020

Following years of neglect and environmental abuse, the new governor of Ninevah province, Najm al-Jabouri, announced last June, a project to plant 1 million trees in an effort to revive Mosul, a city that is also known as al-Khaḍrah, which translates to "The Green."

Subsequently, many projects were launched and some have been finalized already. For instance, on July 15, a tree planting project at Mosul’s central transportation hub was completed by a group of youth volunteers.

Mosul is known for being one of the most fertile cities in Iraq, and many scholars believe the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built near the city. However, many years of neglect, Turkish dams on the Tigris River and environmental damage by the Islamic State (IS) has contributed to its deforestation, turning it into a semi-arid city.

IS not only unraveled the social fabric in Mosul, but it ravaged its fertile lands and systematically burnt the Yazidi's olive tree farms and Mosul’s palm trees, causing sandstorms in Iraq. Hence, the idea to plant trees in the city was born. On June 7, Jabouri officially launched the "Green Mosul" project proposed by Mosul Eye to plant 1 million trees in the city this year.

Al-Monitor spoke to Omar Mohammed, founder of the internationally known blog Mosul Eye, an organization he created in 2014 to document the atrocities committed in Mosul during its occupation under IS. In a tweet, Mosul Eye said the deforestation processes caused by IS between 2013 and 2020 had been clearly and extensively shown and documented.

As part of the project, more than 500,000 palm trees will be planted across Mosul’s neighborhoods, parks and roadsides in order to revive the city's neglected biodiversity. Mosul’s main harvest consists of zucchini, onions and potatoes and many families grow grapes in their backyards.

When asked about what inspired Mohammed to initiate the project, he said, “The main reason I proposed this project is because I traveled to many cities in the world and I saw green spaces in every city in every country where people can enjoy the view and clean air.”

Mohammed said that the local population will be able to enjoy cleaner air, in addition to the trees contributing to “the global climate change campaign”; Iraq and its neighbors have suffered major natural disasters including droughts and locust swarms. According to Mohammed, Mosul’s fertile land and environment will support and preserve the trees, although Mosul has greatly suffered from the use of chemical weapons during the wars that have affected the city's water and soil.

He noted, “The palm trees will be planted based on the urban design of Mosul in a way that is more accessible for the people to visit these green spaces." He added, "We don't want to rely solely on oil and want to support our local farmers and improve our agriculture production to export food rather than having to import." (Iraq imports the majority of its grains, meat, poultry and dairy from Iran and Turkey.)

The project relies on the surveys and studies conducted by the Mosul agriculture department, which had planned to implement a large-scale tree planting project in Mosul for many years but never started the project. The Mosul local government is discussing the project with France, Turkey and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and is also seeking support from international communities and organizations.

On July 9, the French Embassy in Iraq announced an interest in supporting the project on Twitter, saying it intended “to support farmers in western Ninevah and promote social and economic factors.” Mosul Eye tweeted in response, “We are happy that France is positively interested in supporting the project.

Mohammed added, "We look forward to get support from France as they proposed a similar project in 1930 that they did not pursue.”

A source in the Mosul local government told Al-Monitor that the IOM is still studying the project and showed interest because it will also help in creating jobs in the city and ease the tensions in the community. In 2018, the IOM rehabilitated Sallamiya’s water irrigation system, which restored the agriculture sector encouraging many farmers to return to their areas. The source noted that Turkey has offered to contribute with four different types of trees, but has yet to offer any further details.

The governor has also been supportive and established a committee that includes representatives from Mosul Eye, the agriculture department and the municipality of Mosul. The committee will oversee the project and also involve both civil society and the government in taking action to preserve Mosul’s trees. Mohammed said, “This will also help to create some kind of trust between the local government and society.”

The first phase of the project started with the planting of 200,000 trees. However, residents of al-Sukkar district in Mosul have taken it upon themselves to make a difference in their neighborhood by planting trees voluntarily. On July 6, Mosul Eye tweeted a photo of a park in Mosul after it was revitalized by local volunteers.

Tahir Khalil, a Turkmen Shiite who fled his hometown of Shrikhan during the IS occupation, has now returned to harvest his land and continue his studies. He told Al-Monitor, “Mosul has more than 1.5 million residents. If everyone plants only one tree, we will already have more than a million trees in the city.”

As many regions face the ever-rapid consequences of climate change, individual countries are beginning to address those problems. Mohammed concluded, “We think about climate change and the next generations, and it is up to us whether we leave the environment in a worse or better state.”

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