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The Fighting Might Be Over In Mosul But The Battle To Rebuild The City Has Just Begun

Humanitarian needs are high among the 800,000 people displaced.

21/07/2017 10:11 AM AEST | Updated 21/07/2017 10:11 AM AEST
Azad Lashkari / Reuters
"It will only truly be over once the humanitarian crisis has ended."

The battle for Mosul may be over, but its long journey back to normalcy has only just begun. Recently, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally declared victory over ISIL in Mosul.

News outlets reported huge celebrations in cities across Iraq. People gathered in the capital Baghdad's Tahrir Square and in Basra, dancing and waving flags, while others took to the streets in celebratory convoys of motorcycles and cars.

The battle for Mosul raged for almost nine months. It left thousands dead, displaced close to one million people and decimated large areas of the city.

While the end of a nine-month battle is certainly cause for celebration, it is important to remember that Mosul's citizens have a long and dangerous journey ahead, partly due to the way the battle was fought.

Already, just two days after victory has been declared, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is reporting an increase in the number of people injured by unexploded weapons.

Two women were injured when they accidently triggered a booby trap at their door. And a nine-year-old boy was badly wounded when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) outside the home his family had just returned to.

Large areas of Mosul's Old City are yet to be cleared of explosive devices and we can expect that injuries will increase as hundreds of thousands of civilians start to make their way back home.

When battles are fought without due care for civilian life, infrastructure and culture, it becomes much harder for peace and normality to return.

A report released by the ICRC last month found that explosive weapons account for 92 percent of deaths or injuries in urban conflicts. This disturbing figure is hard to reconcile given we have international laws that are designed to limit civilian suffering during times of war.

"Humanitarian needs are high among the 800,000 people displaced from Mosul. Blasts from unexploded mortars and IEDs are now killing and maiming family members returning home. Mines in schools, hospitals and on roads are a major risk for curious children and civilians at large. These dangerous and deadly tools of war must be cleared as soon as possible," said Alexandra Manescu, ICRC's deputy head of delegation in Iraq.  

The toll of the battle is not only measured in lives, but also the infrastructure that supports life and the culture that sustains it. Mosul has been utterly decimated. The UN reports that more than 5,000 buildings have been destroyed, 490 in the Old City alone. The ICRC has reported that 600 roads and bridges have been destroyed along with water stations, electricity plants, hospitals and schools.

Civilians depend on this infrastructure to survive, and the laws of war state that every reasonable precaution must be taken to avoid its destruction or loss.

When battles are fought without due care for civilian life, infrastructure and culture, it becomes much harder for peace and normality to return. By regulating the conduct of warfare, the laws of war provide a basis for sustainable peace-building once a conflict has ended.

Parties to conflicts must limit the impact of their warfare on civilians, and it is also in their own military interests to do so. Otherwise, what will be left for them to control after people have lost so much and suffered so deeply, and the services that kept them alive lie in ruins?

Will the victors be able to keep the peace if people feel they have respected neither the law nor their basic humanity?

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To achieve lasting peace for Mosul -- and for Iraq as a whole -- steps must be taken quickly to resume access to education, rebuild infrastructure and ensure people have sufficient food, shelter, water, healthcare, sanitation and psychosocial support.

Since the start of the battle for Mosul, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society and the ICRC have been working around the clock providing food, essential relief items, clean water and medicines to more than 1 million people. It is important that this humanitarian work continues well into the future to ensure peace and stability for Mosul's population.

Prime Minister Abadi has already spoken of the challenges that lie ahead in securing sustained peace and stability for Mosul, and one thing is clear; the battle for Mosul is not over simply because the fighting has stopped. It will only truly be over once the humanitarian crisis has ended.

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