Lessons from a year of post-ISIL stabilization in Iraq

In Mosul a battle is raging to take back the city from ISIL. As the fighting ends, essential work is ramping up to make sure that people who have been displaced by occupation and war can return to their homes as fast as possible - and stay there. 

Already in the past year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in close cooperation with the Iraqi government, the provincial authorities and the international coalition, has helped to re-boot social and economic recovery in 18 locations that have been liberated from ISIL, including Falluja and Tikrit. 

Our US$790 million Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization (FFIS) project is designed to support the early recovery effort in liberated towns through a three-month, high-impact programme to motivate millions of displaced Iraqis to return to their communities from camps and informal settlements across the country. 

UNDP is making sure that people get services like water, clinics, schools, police stations, markets and government buildings. Families are receiving help to rebuild damaged homes, public infrastructure is being rehabilitated and small businesses are being supported with cash grants to get started again. 

These actions are essential to ensure those who were forced to flee are able to return and stay in the area, making them productive citizens once again. It is the first step towards post-conflict recovery and peace building. While the battle for Mosul is continuing, UNDP is already working in the liberated Eastern section of the city which is now free from ISIL. 

Many people have already returned home but water and electricity stations must be rebuilt and people need to be able to work and earn money. UNDP is providing this through cash for work projects and alongside this is rehabilitation of schools and clinics, many of which were destroyed during the fighting. 

However, the sheer size of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with a population of around 1.5 million, means it will be an enormous challenge. Providing a rapid boost to the city’s economic recovery will help to calm fears, but it will not be cheap. 

Although it is difficult to estimate how much will be needed, partly because there is still a tough battle ahead for the city’s western section, the budget will be much bigger than that for cities such as Ramadi or Fallujah. 

An initial estimate suggests that some $200 million will be required to stabilise the city, although this could be substantially higher depending on the level of destruction in the western part. On top of that, the city’s population has been traumatized after two years of ISIL rule, and there are fears that revenge and sectarian hatred will be rampant. 

One of the lessons learned from the stabilization projects in other cities is that political leadership by the authorities and local leaders will be crucial to overcome this. 

Other lessons from the past year of stabilisation include: 

The injection of cash into the local economy through cash-for-work schemes is important in preventing anxiety in the future and making sure that young people, in particular, do not turn to violent extremism. 

Stabilization efforts need an agreement between key actors on guaranteeing security for those returning. This has normally taken the form of a security council involving Iraq armed forces, police, militias, tribal leaders and representatives of key groups such as women and young people. 

The partnership with local, provincial and central government must be strong as these will be the key actors that turn the immediate stabilization into longer term development planning and efforts. Experience from Ramadi and Fallujah suggests that local authorities need extensive support in form of additional staff, training and resources to be able to ensure long-term stability. 

Initially we believed that after the three-month period of support, government-led initiatives would take over to foster medium to long-term development. However, we overestimated the capacity of the government to respond in such a short period of time given the continuing war with ISIL, the large-scale humanitarian crisis, the fall in the price of oil which seriously impacted public finances and the outstanding political issues in Baghdad. 

In response, UNDP established the “Expanded” Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFES), which allows undertaking larger initiatives that take longer than three months. 

Particularly in large cities, such as Fallujah, it has been impossible to undertake all the stabilization projects at once, so phasing projects has been a useful strategy to ensure a rapid response whilst not forgetting the longer-term and more complex projects which can have far greater impact, such as the Ramadi Maternity and Children’s Hospital or the Tikrit Teaching Hospital with 400 beds which FFES is supporting currently with $26 million. 

Stabilizing Mosul will be a complex process in the short, medium and long term. UNDP’s Stabilization initiative will play a critical role in laying the early foundations for recovery and peacebuilding, using the crucial lessons learnt elsewhere in Iraq. 

by Moises Venancio, Adviser, UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States

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