Baghdad- More than six months after Iraqi forces retook Fallujah from ISIS, reconstruction is slow and the government risks alienating those residents who have returned to the city, which is mainly inhabited by Sunnis.
“There are no members of the Daesh terrorist organization left in Fallujah,” the police chief, Colonel Jamal al-Jumaili, told Agence France Presse, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“Fallujah is a safe city,” he insisted.
Iraqi forces retook Fallujah, an emblematic jihadist bastion just 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, in June 2016 with relative ease but that victory came at a hefty price.
A large number of homes were destroyed by the fighting and several neighborhoods are still off-limits to civilians due to the possible presence of booby-traps planted by ISIS in their retreat.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said last month that only about 10 percent of homes in Fallujah were inhabitable.
“Nothing works here, there’s no water, no electricity and houses have been destroyed,” said Firas Mahmoud, a 25-year-old who returned to Fallujah after ISIS was defeated and is currently unemployed.
Another man met on the street in Fallujah had the same grievances and complained of the lack of services and jobs.
“The authorities must do something,” said the young man, who gave his name as Mustafa.
The Fallujah municipality defended its record but Mayor Issa al-Sayer mostly called for “the help of the international community to allow Fallujah residents to live in stability.”
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government “lacks or may lack the focus and resources to adequately budget for an adequate reconstruction effort,” said Omar Lamrani, an analyst with the Stratfor think tank.
“Baghdad’s finances are already stretched with low energy prices and the costly demands of war, and corruption and cronyism affect the direction of the limited funds available,” he said.
In the winter of 2012-2013, protests spread across Anbar province, in which Fallujah lies, complaining that Iraq’s Sunni minority was being stigmatized by then prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.
In January 2014, rebels took control of the city, which was eventually overrun by jihadists from what became known as ISIS.
To retake Fallujah, Baghdad relied on its regular forces but also on the Popular Mobilization Forces, an organization dominated by Shi’ite militia groups with close ties to Iran.
The police chief insisted that “only the army and the police are present” inside the city. PMF holds positions in towns and rural areas around the city, he said.