After Caliphate’s Fall, A Spending Challenge

Two children walk among the ruins of Mosul, Iraq, June 14
Two children walk among the ruins of Mosul, Iraq, June 14 (ECHO/Peter Biro)

Since Iraqi troops seized back Mosul last month, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has been reduced to the area around Raqqa in Syria. Predominantly Kurdish forces are attempting to take the city, protected by Western airpower. Authorities estimate the number of Islamist fighters has dwindled from the thousands to the hundreds.

As soon as the caliphate falls, governments will face another challenge: the reconstruction.

Repairs to basic infrastructure in Mosul alone could cost up to $1 billion, according to the United Nations.

Iraq’s Ministry of Planning puts the long-term cost of rebuilding Mosul at $10 billion. That includes repairing the damage from the fighting as well as the deliberate destruction caused by the Islamic State.

Given Iraq’s history of corruption and mismanagement of public funds, the final figure could be much higher. And that’s just Mosul. Read more

Catalans, Kurds, Given No Other Choice, Announce Referendums

Catalans demonstrate for independence in Barcelona, Spain, July 10, 2010
Catalans demonstrate for independence in Barcelona, Spain, July 10, 2010 (Rob Shenk)

Both the Catalans and Iraq’s Kurds have announced independence referendums this week over the objections of their central governments.

The two might seem a world away. Catalans have virtually no security concerns. The Kurds are waging a war on two fronts: one against Turkey to the north and another against the self-proclaimed Islamic State to the south.

Yet they have things in common. Read more

Defeat in Mosul Will Not Eliminate the Islamic State

An American airman radios in from a defensive fighting position while on perimeter watch at Qayyarah Airfield West Iraq, November 17, 2016
An American airman radios in from a defensive fighting position while on perimeter watch at Qayyarah Airfield West Iraq, November 17, 2016 (USAF/Jordan Castelan)

As David Downing reported here on Sunday, Mosul could make a quick economic recovery once it is entirely liberated from the self-declared Islamic State by Iraqi government forces.

Not only is the city, once Iraq’s second largest, a hub for northern Iraqi industry and trade; it’s also situated close to major oil and natural gas reserves. The potential for further economic expansion could be close at hand. Read more

A Tale of Two Cities in Mosul

Children carry food rations distributed by aid groups in a refugee camp in Qayyarah, Iraq, November 8, 2016
Children carry food rations distributed by aid groups in a refugee camp in Qayyarah, Iraq, November 8, 2016 (EU/ECHO/Peter Biro)

Mosul is a tale of two cities.

Eastern Mosul, situated on the left bank of the Tigris, has been fully liberated and a sense of normalcy is returning there. The first schools recently reopened, giving some 16,000 children access to education again. Residents are cleaning and clearing the streets.

Western Mosul, on the right bank of the river, remains under Islamic State control. Read more

After Mosul Falls, What Then?

A Kurdish fighter waits on the frontline a few hours before the start of the offensive on Mosul, Iraq, October 18
A Kurdish fighter waits on the frontline a few hours before the start of the offensive on Mosul, Iraq, October 18 (Quentin Bruno)

There are some 100,000 troops involved in the conquest (or reconquest, depending on your perspective) of Mosul. On the surface, the battle is meant to restore the Iraqi government to its full writ; a Baghdad-united Shia and Sunni realm, a nation state on the way to functionality. In other words, a normal country.

Ah, dreams.

Careful observation reveals a more wretched future. The Islamic State may be doomed, but that hardly means peace for Iraq. There are too many who want a piece of this particular pie.

Many players there are. Let’s start with the greatest of powers, who define the broadest outlines of geopolitics in the Middle East. Read more

What the Upcoming Battle of Mosul Tells Us About the Iraqi State

American defense secretary Ashton Carter speaks with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad, April 18
American defense secretary Ashton Carter speaks with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad, April 18 (DoD/Adrian Cadiz)

As battles go, it was a real shocker: less than 1,500 Islamic State fighters defeating perhaps 30,000 Iraqi police and troops. In the course of six days, from June 4 to June 10, 2014, IS militia conquered Iraq’s second largest city using little more than suicide bombers and pickup trucks. They should have been butchered: Iraq’s troops were well-equipped and theoretically well-trained by the Americans. Should have, yet weren’t; instead of victory, Iraq lost its biggest battle since the American invasion in 2003.

It taught us a lot about Iraq, about how states develop and how quickly they can unravel.

Now Iraqi forces gather for the counterattack. From the ashes of the upcoming battle, we’ll learn even more. Read more

Can We Now Finally Bury the “Bad Intelligence” Myth?

British prime minister Tony Blair listens as American president George W. Bush answers a question from a reporter in Buckinghamshire, England, July 19, 2001
British prime minister Tony Blair listens as American president George W. Bush answers a question from a reporter in Buckinghamshire, England, July 19, 2001 (Getty Images)

The idea that “bad intelligence” informed the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 is one that has been so thoroughly debunked it’s hard to believe politicians still manage to get away with it.

When Republican presidential contenders in the United States were peddling this myth again last year, I argued they were rewriting history.

This week’s release of John Chilcot’s report in the United Kingdom should finally put it to rest. Read more