A US-led coalition and ground forces declared victory in Ramadi, Iraq, after they drove ISIS militants out of the city last week.
But the fighting was so intense that 80% of the city was destroyed. And it will cost an estimated $10 billion to rebuild, according to The Wall Street Journal.
This has been a pattern in the fight against the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh). Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, was decimated by bombs and bullets. And Kobani, Syria, lies in ruins.
Some of the destruction was caused by US airstrikes and local ground forces, and some was deliberately caused by ISIS. The group “levels cities on their way out,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counterterrorism analyst and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told Business Insider.
“This is something which is very much by design,” Gartenstein-Ross said. “ISIS booby traps cities and tries to do as much damage as possible to make it difficult for its adversaries to rebuild and for life to get on as normal.”
ISIS’ destructive tactics also play to its larger strategy for going up against much more substantial armies.
“Insurgents hinder their opponents’ advances by booby-trapping homes and mining roadways,” The Journal reported. “Those strategies require little manpower from Islamic State but turn opposing armies into something like demolition crews and blocks of urban infrastructure into collateral damage.”
It’s unclear from where the money for a $10-billion reconstruction would come. The Journal noted that falling oil prices have shrunken Iraq’s revenue and that the country’s parliament just passed a budget with a $20-billion deficit. Other governments have pledged funding for rebuilding Iraq, but it’s not enough to cover the work that will be needed.
“I don’t think there’s a clear way forward because it depends on so many factors,” Gartenstein-Ross said. “Ideally the way forward would involve leverage to create a sustainable solution. It involves reducing Sunni feelings of disenfranchisement and constraining the Popular Mobilization Units,” or Shia militias.
Ramadi is the capital of the Anbar province, which is comprised of mostly Sunni Muslims. Iraqi officials wanted Ramadi to be a “flagship example” of the Shia-dominated central government’s commitment to rebuilding Sunni areas, according to The Journal. For years, Sunnis have accused the central government of discrimination.
What could complicate efforts to bridge the Sunni-Shia divide is Iraq’s limited funding options. Iran, a Shiite theocracy, could offer to step up as it continues expanding its influence in Iraq, according to Gartenstein-Ross. This could further inflame sectarian tensions, as Iranian-backed Shia militias have been accused of committing atrocities against Sunni civilians.
“It could be that Iran would simply provide the money … to build up its sphere of influence,” Gartenstein-Ross said, cautioning that it’s still unclear what is most likely to happen. “It’s certainly possible, but I don’t know.”
Government officials must also consider whether it’s worth rebuilding these cities now, when ISIS might be planning further offensives to take these areas. Workers who rebuild these areas might also be targeted by terrorists.
“If another ISIS offensive is coming, you’ll probably slow roll the rebuilding,” Gartenstein-Ross said. “It’s definitely possible to defer construction … to guarantee security on reconstruction efforts.”
The Journal reported that the Iraqi government is likely to ask donor countries and international aid agencies for more money to put toward rebuilding.
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