Over the past two years Iraq’s second city has been “eroded”. Bit by bit, Mosul’s largest buildings, industrial plants and other state facilities are being chipped away, either through bombing by the international coalition that has pledged to fight the extremist group known as the Islamic State, that controls this city; or because the extremist group itself is looting the buildings, selling machinery and fittings and often, taking it to Syria.
Speaking to locals by phone, NIQASH counted around 120 major buildings that have either been destroyed or rendered useless by bombing and looting. This figure doesn’t take into account private properties and residences.
When a site is bombed, IS members remove the bodies of their fighters and leave only civilian corpses, before filming the damage.
“They came to the city from the desert and I fear they won’t leave until they’ve turned our city into a desert,” a local engineer, Ahmad al-Badrani*, who worked in construction here for many years, told NIQASH. “As soon as they arrived members of the Islamic State started to destroy the buildings they considered to be symbols of the Iraqi state – such as the oldest police station in Mosul. The station became a grocery market while the second biggest compound in Mosul – the Badush prison - was bombed, then the rubble was auctioned off.”
The most important factories in Mosul – those producing cement, textiles, clothing, sugar and flour – have been destroyed. Seventeen buildings belonging to the local education department, including university buildings, are also gone. More than 25 military and security-related offices and sites no longer exist and nor do the six biggest banks in Mosul, including the Central Bank. Four telecommunications centres and four bridges on main roads outside the city have also been destroyed.
The bulk of this destruction has been caused by airstrikes by the international coalition. The fact that the Islamic State, or IS, group controls the city makes it a clear target for coalition bombing.
One of the most recent facilities to be destroyed was the Mishraq sulphur plant, formerly run by the state.
Saeed al-Taie, who now lives in Baghdad, used to work there and recalls that the plant was built on one of the largest sulphur fields in the world and would produce more than a million tons of the material every year, most of which would then be exported to China. In June this year, al-Taie heard that the plant was hit by about 11 missiles.
Even before that though, al-Taie says that the IS group looted the plant, taking machinery and other materials and sending it all to Syria.
At the moment the locals living in Mosul say that the IS group is using the ongoing airstrikes to try and incite hatred toward their opposition, the Iraqi government and the international coalition responsible for the air strikes. When a site is bombed, the extremists remove the bodies of all of their fighters and their vehicles and leave only civilian corpses, if there are some. They then film the destruction and the dead, and provide a voice over in which they lament the bombing of the valuable building and the unjust deaths of non-combatants.
In one of the IS group’s latest videos on social media, one of their members stands amid the ruins of the Badush cement plant. The fighter points at the destruction and says that no amount of shelling would ever induce the Islamic State to abandon its prophesied glory.
However, after the cameras are gone, representatives of the IS group sell off whatever they can at auction. Businessmen compete to buy valuable scrap and, although this is unconfirmed, locals suggest that many of those attending the auctions are Syrian. The deal is usually finalized at IS offices in the city.
“So many landmarks in Mosul have disappeared,” complains Abdul Hadi Aziz*, who still lives in the city. “And the merchants who buy scrap and other things from the destroyed buildings usually hire labourers to work there all day to collect whatever they can, especially iron.”
Aziz gives the example of the Mosul Teaching Hospital, which had had a total budget of around US$148 million and which was about three-quarters finished. Just like dozens of other state-owned buildings around Mosul, it now seems to have almost disappeared.
Most of the scrap is taken to Syria, Aziz believes.
As the effort to push the IS group out of Mosul appears to be gathering momentum, civilians in the city remain very worried. Even if they escape the fighting unscathed, they know that once the dust settles, their city will be a very different place. They also know that the Iraqi government doesn’t have enough money for reconstruction and that most of the funding assistance the government receives will go toward humanitarian aid.
*Names of individuals still living in Mosul have been changed to protect them and their families.