A member of pro-Iraqi government forces outside Fallujah, in Anbar, during fighting there in August. (photo: حيدر محمد علي)
Fallujah was one of the first Iraqi cities to come under the control of the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which has been there since January 2014. And it has taken this long to push the extremist group out of Fallujah, a traditional stronghold for rebellious Sunnis. But at the beginning of July the Iraqi government announced that the Islamic State, or IS, group had been driven out of the central Iraqi city entirely.
“The amount of damage and destruction in the city is more than that which was caused by the fighting,” says Rajeh Barakat al-Issawi, a local politician who heads Anbar’s provincial security committee. “But that doesn't mean the IS group are innocent. They are experts at theft and destruction.”
Al-Issawi thinks that the damage done in his town cannot be blamed on just one party. Some have suggested the additional destruction was caused by members of Iraq's volunteer Shiite militias, who have committed controversial and vengeful acts in cities in Anbar in the past, after pushing their enemies in the IS group out.
The volunteers are not angels and there could be individuals who have taken part in revenge acts.
Pro-government forces certainly contributed to Fallujah's damage during the siege of the city. But the IS group also destroyed a lot of Fallujah's infrastructure, looting from important facilities like Fallujah's water works.
“When we got back to the city recently, we found that the Fallujah water works had been completely destroyed,” Issa al-Issawi, the mayor of Fallujah told NIQASH. “When we started to assess the damage we figured out that the pumps and operating systems had all been stolen, before the place was bombed.”
“The IS group is also responsible for the destruction of the power station here as well as the theft of transformers from the city's streets,” al-Issawi added. “The Fallujah General Teaching Hospital and the Fallujah Maternity and Children's Hospital is also out of action because of bombing and looting.”
The Teaching Hospital will need around US$4 million to get it back into action, al-Issawi noted.
Of course, returning locals remain suspicious that the volunteer militias are partially responsible for the destruction of their city, especially when, following fighting in Diyala and Salahaddin, there were videos made showing burning and destruction that occurred after the IS group left the area.
Speaking to leaders among the various volunteer militias, made up mainly of Shiite Muslim volunteers who come from other areas of Iraq with a Shiite-Muslim-majority population rather than Fallujah, which has a Sunni-Muslim-majority, they say they cannot rule out acts of disobedience.
“The volunteers are by no means angels and there could be individuals, or even groups of people, who have taken part in revenge acts,” agrees Karim Nouri, a spokesperson for the Shiite Muslim militias. “When we get proof of this, we will prosecute them. But at the same time we can also confirm that there have been no organised acts of destruction or vandalism planned by the volunteers.”
“As yet we don't have any official statistics about the number of houses or civilian facilities that have been destroyed here,” says mayor al-Issawi. “But we are looking forward to the return of the inhabitants so we can start assessing this damage too.”