Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi traveled to Mosul on Sunday to declare victory during the final phase of the long campaign to drive the self-described Islamic State militants out of the city of Mosul.
Armed forces were still battling over the last part of the Old City under militant control on Sunday as Abadi congratulated Iraqi fighters and Baghdad residents celebrated by dancing in the streets.
On Monday, the U.S.-led coalition that supported Iraq throughout the battle announced that fighters had managed to clear the rest of the city. “While there are still areas of the Old City of Mosul that must be backed-cleared of explosive devices and possible ISIS fighters in hiding, the Iraqi Security Forces have Mosul now firmly under their control,” the coalition said in a statement.
As the end of the battle neared, the destruction brought on by nine months of fierce fighting came into plain sight.
ISIS swept into Mosul in the summer of 2014 in a lightning offensive and made the majority Sunni city its headquarters in Iraq. In June 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi addressed his followers and celebrated the declaration of a caliphate from inside the city’s history Grand al-Nuri Mosque.
The battle to retake Mosul started in October 2016, and first focused on the eastern districts before moving to the narrow streets of the Old City in the west.
The campaign lasted far longer than expected, and took a far heavier toll than predicted.
“In western Mosul what we’re seeing is the worst damage of the entire conflict. In those neighborhoods where the fighting has been the fiercest, we’re looking at levels of damage incomparable to anything else that has happened in Iraq so far,” Lisa Grande, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, told Reuters on Wednesday.
At least six of western Mosul’s 44 districts have been leveled, Grande said. Air strikes, fierce house-to-house combat and attacks by suicide bombers have obliterated crucial infrastructure like roads, bridges, the water works and the electricity net. Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed.
On June 21, as Iraqi armed forces were closing in, ISIS blew up the 12th-century Grand al-Nuri mosque where Baghdadi had given his caliphate speech.
The UN estimates it will take up to a year, and more than $1 billion, to restore basic services like water, sewage, electricity, schools and medical facilities. Long-term rebuilding is expected to cost billions more.
The level of destruction severely complicates the return of hundreds of thousands of Mosul residents who fled the fighting. More than 900,000 people, about half of the city’s population, are now living with family members or in refugee camps.
“For families that come from other neighborhoods that are moderately destroyed, I think we can expect that many of them will try to go back and they’ll do the best they can to try to rebuild,” Grande said.
For the others, a longer stay in one of the many overcrowded refugee camps lies ahead.
At the Hassan Sham camp east of Mosul, a reporter for Reuters last week witnessed residents selling food rations in order to buy ice to keep cool amid temperatures topping 104 degrees.
Mohammed Haji Ahmed had fled Mosul just five days before telling Reuters he had lost his home, business and 15 members of his family since ISIS took over the city.
“If there is no rebuilding and people don’t return to their homes and regain their belongings, what is the meaning of liberation?” he asked.