Home / World / Middle East

Iraqi city struggles after being freed from IS grip

China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-05 07:39

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Even as Iraqi forces in Mosul close in on the last pockets of urban territory still held by the Islamic State group, residents of Fallujah in Iraq's Sunni heartland are still struggling to rebuild nearly a year after their neighborhoods were declared liberated from the extremists.

After declaring the city liberated last June, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the victory a major step toward unifying Iraq more than two years after nearly a third of the country fell to IS. "Fallujah has returned to the nation," he declared in a speech broadcast nationwide.

But in the months that followed, while the Iraqi government compiled databases and set up tight checkpoints on the main roads in and out of Fallujah to screen residents for suspected ties with IS, it provided little in the way of reconstruction money, local officials say.

Sheikh Talib al-Hasnawi, the head of Fallujah's municipal council, said international aid is what has provided electricity, repaired water pumps and built filtration systems.

"We have a real problem with (IS) sleeper cells," he said, adding that what Fallujah needs most is a strong security force to prevent the extremists from re-establishing a foothold in the city some 65 kilometers west of Baghdad. "Honestly the support from Baghdad has been very weak," he added, noting that his repeated requests for more equipment and arms for the city's local police have gone unheeded.

"So mostly we are relying on the civilians to alert us to threats," he said. "All we can provide are the very basics."

Located in the heart of Anbar province, Fallujah has a long history of anti-government sentiment. After the US-led invasion in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein, many of the city's residents supported a Sunni insurgency that rose up against US forces and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

In 2014, many in Fallujah welcomed IS when the militants took over following a bloody government crackdown on thousands of protesters camped out on the city's outskirts to challenge the increasingly sectarian rule of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Abdul Hassan, a blacksmith from the al-Askari neighborhood hasn't brought his wife and children back to the city yet. When asked if he was concerned about security, he shrugged.

"Once there are enough schools, I'll bring my children. Until then I'll keep them in Baghdad," he said.

Associated Press

Most Viewed in 24 Hours