Interview: Iraqi provincial governor vows reconstruction of Mosul, safe return of displaced

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-09 23:03:07|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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MOSUL, Iraq, July 9 (Xinhua) -- On the second anniversary of the liberation of Iraq's northern city of Mosul, Mansour al-Mareed, newly-elected governor of Nineveh Province, pledged to reconstruct the city and enable a safe return for displaced people.

"Up to now, there is no real reconstruction. I assumed my position as governor about a month ago, and we are embarking on the reconstruction mission and soon the outcome of our efforts will be seen," al-Mareed told Xinhua in a recent interview.

However, there are many hindrances to the reconstruction of the battered city after nine months of liberation war that destroyed its infrastructure and turned thousands of homes into rubble.

In Mosul, the devastation ranged from 10 percent in some of its districts to 100 percent in the old city center, where some 11,500 buildings were destroyed.

The fierce clashes also destroyed the city's power stations, as well as infrastructure including roads, bridges, water supply, hospitals and schools, provincial officials said.

The provincial government's budget is not proportional to the magnitude of destruction and the great need in the province, al-Mareed said.

"We need from 5 to 6 billion U.S. dollars but our budget is fewer than 1 billion. How can we fill the funding gap? We are facing the challenges of time and funding," he explained.

The new local government had to set priorities and lay out a plan for reconstruction, al-Mareed noted.

Rebuilding bridges, hospitals and schools were given top priority, the governor said, adding rehabilitating roads and public services will come next on the government's agenda.

An agreement was also reached with a French company to rehabilitate the city's airport which will be opened by June 2020, the governor said.

Asked whether Mosul is a safe environment for investments, al-Mareed said "investments are linked to the security situation, which is good in the entire province."

"We heavily rely on investing companies to implement projects and create job opportunities in the city," he pointed out.

In June 2014, the Islamic State (IS) militants occupied Mosul as Iraqi security forces, which outnumbered the attackers at the time and had more logistic and military sources, fled their positions, enabling the extremists to hold sway over large swathes of Iraq.

The eastern side of the city was left almost intact in the aftermath of the military operations to dislodge IS militants between 2016 and 2017, but the old town which lies in the western side of the city was battered with thousands of its buildings destroyed and its people either killed or displaced.

"We have formed a 25-member panel representing the engineering syndicate, local government, private engineering offices, local dignitaries and civil activists to give consultancy and vision for reconstruction of the old city center," the governor said.

The panel will present an overall vision for the future of the old city center and then reconstruction will be implemented according to the allocated funds and in cooperation with investing companies, he added.

Al-Mareed was elected as governor of the province in May to succeed Nawfal al-Akoub who was sacked over the ferry sinking tragedy that claimed the lives of over 100 civilians.

Asked about the displacement crisis, al-Mareed said enabling the return of displaced people is as important as the reconstruction and it is a challenge that both the local and central government in Baghdad must overcome.

"It is unbelievable that families live in tents for years. Tents are temporary shelters for people to live in for a few months, but now it has been four years," he said.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, more than 300,000 people remain displaced from Mosul.

"Some people can't return to their areas because they have no job opportunities, so we need to figure out which opportunities we can create, since we have now about 113 million dollars to be spent for stability efforts in the province," al-Mareed said.

"Victory over the IS was achieved during the rule of the former government and this time, the new government must (find a solution to) settle the displacement issue," he added.