Mosul, Iraq – Almost two years after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared it liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group, the Old City of Mosul remains largely in ruins.
This historic part of Iraq‘s second largest city was home to half a million people before the ISIL took control in 2013. This densely populated area on the western banks of the Tigris used to be Mosul’s economic centre and beating heart.
When the ISIL fighters decided to make their last stand in its naturally protected narrow streets, the Old City became the target of some of the heaviest coalition air attacks and the Iraqi army shelling.
The United Nations says that 5,000 buildings have been damaged in the Old City alone, while 500 were totally destroyed. Some neighbourhoods have been entirely wiped out.
The efforts to rebuild have been hampered by an ill-equipped municipality and what local authorities say is a lack of funding. Many residents, like 75-year-old Qassim Yahya, blame rampant corruption for the lack of progress.
Further complicating relief efforts are hundreds of explosive hazards still buried under the rubble. About 80 people have lost their lives in the incidents involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines since the city’s liberation in July 2017, according to USAID.
Against all the odds, some residents have been steadily returning to the area to rebuild their homes and their lives, reopening small businesses like tea shops and fruit stalls.