Mosul, Iraq – The children use the bombed out streets as a sort of a playground, playing a version of the game cops and robbers – instead calling it army versus ISIL.
Well, that’s what it looks like to me anyway.
Getting them to stand still long enough to ask them is a futile task, but as I watch them race around they allow me to scan the Old City of Mosul – a place with an area of just a few kilometres square, but once a bustling centre of homes, mosques, churches and markets.
Today, this is one of the most bombed out places I have ever seen – more than parts of Afghanistan’s Kabul in the early 2000s and more than Basra and Baghdad in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
The reason for destruction was tactical. Iraqi forces forced ISIL fighters into the Old City and surrounded them for the final stages of the battle.
The al-Nouri Mosque became ground zero – the armed group’s last bastion.
The mosque had stood for nearly a thousand years. It was destroyed in just a few hours.
As I wander around the compound, it’s obvious that restoring the Old City will be crucial if Iraq is to move on from it’s past. But that’s going to be difficult.
Iraq needs $88bn to repair places destroyed in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
It doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of money. That worries people here. If reconstruction work doesn’t happen soon, then anger at the government will rise.
People just want to come back home. If anger at the government rises to a certain level, that will give those groups, like ISIL, an opportunity to come back.
It will be small at first – recruitment of disillusioned and unemployed young men, the use of social media to spread anger at the lack of progress.
Once that happens, it’s not a big stretch to imagine another group like ISIL being born out of the destruction of the Old City.
And while the likelihood of a group the size of ISIL is unlikely to ever materialise again, smaller armed groups might, and they can wreak havoc in a city, like we have seen in Baghdad and Kabul.
Reconstruction doesn’t just mean allowing people to come home, it also means stopping the anger that led to a group like ISIL in the first place.