Iraq

Mosul after the Battle: Reparations for civilian harm and the future of Ninewa

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Introduction

On 10 July 2017, after nearly nine months of intense fighting between the Iraqi Security Forces, their allies and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the city of Mosul was declared liberated. The intensity and length of the battle left much of the city reduced to rubble and caused thousands of civilian casualties.

Mosul, a metropolis of 1.5 million people, had served as the capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) for some three years. While ISIS was responsible for a litany of crimes against the population of the city during its occupation, the military campaign to recapture Mosul also saw violations against civilians carried out by the Iraqi government, the international coalition supporting it, and pro-government militias.

The result was destruction on a massive scale. The city of Mosul, especially the old historic town, was about 65 per cent destroyed as a result of the conflict with ISIS. Over 138,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, including 53,000 in West Mosul alone. The buildings and laboratories of the University of Mosul were 70 per cent destroyed and the main library, which contained 3 million books, was burnt. Total damage to the housing sector alone was estimated to amount to around US $6 billion.

These figures, however, do not fully capture the extent of the wounds inflicted on the city. The death toll continues to rise as mass graves are discovered and rubble from the city of Mosul is removed. It is currently impossible to say how many people were victims of ISIS and of the military operations that led to its fall. The fate of many people is still unknown, notably the 3,000 Yazidis that are still missing to this day. The brutality and psychological harm inflicted on the population, especially on minorities and on residents of the old city, have ruptured the social fabric and left an open wound.

Mosul’s diversity and its centrality in the conflict with ISIS make it a testing ground for the future of transitional justice in Iraq. An important part of this agenda is to provide civilians with adequate, prompt and effective reparations for the ‘hell on earth’ they survived. So far, the responsibility for reparations has primarily been assumed by the government of Iraq. Iraq’s Law 20 on Compensating the Victims of Military Operations, Military Mistakes and Terrorist Actions aims at compensating those who suffered personal or property damage as a result of terrorist attacks and military operations.

As of November 2019, in Ninewa governorate 5,859 families had used this national mechanism to claim compensation for the death of one of their loved ones, as well as 2,700 injured persons. In addition, 26,000 families had filed a claim for loss of property. While the high number of claims is evidence of the urgent need for compensation felt by the population, the Iraqi state appears unable to cope with the profound desperation that is spreading among civilians. The cumbersome procedure required to file a claim, combined with the significant processing delays and alleged corruption, result in a failure to provide civilians with effective and prompt compensation. Although recent amendments to the law promise to reduce some of these administrative hurdles, the process of implementing the new measures will undoubtedly cause further delays for civilians. Moreover, while the military campaign to recapture Mosul led to massive destruction and civilian casualties, the current reparation mechanism fails to acknowledge the full responsibility of the Iraqi government and the international coalition.

This report aims to assess the current state of reparations in Iraq for victims of the conflict with ISIS, focusing on Mosul as a case study. It looks particularly at Iraq’s Law 20 mechanisms, but also considers international mechanisms accessible in Ninewa, such as the United Nations (UN) Special Investigative Team on the Crimes of Daesh. In addition to assessing implementation, the report also considers the gaps in the current framework as a mechanism for providing reparation to victims both of the ISIS occupation and the destruction caused during the recapture of Mosul.

Methodology

This report was written on the basis of in-depth interviews conducted in Ninewa governorate between November and December 2019. Interviewees included civilian victims, professors, lawyers, members of the Ninewa Provincial Council, and members of the Martyrs’ Foundation. The interviews were conducted face to face, mostly in Arabic, and based on a list of open questions concerning reparation mechanisms in Ninewa. The purpose of the research was clearly stated to the interviewees. To protect their anonymity, only a general descriptor of each interviewee is given throughout the report.

This report aims to give an overview of the availability of national and international reparation mechanisms in Ninewa governorate. Both the perspectives of civilians who are potential beneficiaries of these mechanisms as well as the officials who administer them are explored to give a rounded insight on their implementation. It follows an earlier report published by Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights (Ceasefire) and Minority Rights Group International (MRG) on Reparations for the Victims of Conflict in Iraq. The current report focuses on Mosul, as Iraq’s second city and the epicentre of the war against ISIS. Civilian reparations are an essential component in reconciliation and recovery after conflict. How they are implemented in Ninewa will be a key indicator of the post-conflict future of the governorate and of Iraq as a whole.