MOSUL: Mosul’s Old City still lies in ruins three years after intense fighting drove out Islamic State jihadists. With rebuilding unlikely and Iraq’s economy in tailspin, homeowners are desperate to sell. But many who lived through the horrors of IS rule there are now unable to find buyers for their properties in what still resembles a warzone.
Piles of rubble block streets and collapsed buildings mar the shattered ancient city center once famous for its mosques, churches and synagogues and maze of historic streets. Entire neighborhoods remain blanketed by a pungent stench which locals say is caused by still unrecovered bodies, broken sewage systems and illegal trash dumps. Many family homes on the banks of the Tigris river have remained largely undamaged, but are still off limits because IS booby-trapped them.
“For months, I’ve been trying to sell my home in the Old City because it’s too damaged to live in,” said 62-year-old Saad Gergis. “But no one wants to buy it because it’s surrounded by homes emitting horrible smells.” The Islamic State group, which ran a self-declared “caliphate” across vast parts of Syria and Iraq, captured Mosul in 2014 but was driven out by the Iraqi army in mid-2017 after months of gruelling street fighting.
Many Mosul residents long waited for compensation or rebuilding-in vain, as Iraq remains mired in political and economic crisis. Gergis finally scraped together what he could and bought a plot of land outside the city to build a new home for his wife and four children. Until the house is ready, his family is living in a rented apartment across town, on the eastern outskirts of Mosul. Returning to his old neighborhood is difficult for Gergis, who lived for three years under brutal IS rule. “When I go back, I can see all the old horrors of IS: the killings, the explosions, the executions,” he told AFP.
Waiting for state help
IS may have been defeated in Mosul, but Iraq is now struggling through its worst economic crisis in years, deepened by last year’s collapse of oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. The dinar currency has been devalued by 25 percent. “I bought my home well before the war at 60 million Iraqi dinars,” around $50,000 at the time, Gergis told AFP. “It’s not even worth a quarter of that now. It’s the same for all the houses of the Old City.”
Mosul real estate agent Maher Al-Naqib said property prices have collapsed across a devastated city which has seen little government help. “The state has not paid for the damage, public services have not been restored, government buildings haven’t reopened and bridges have not been rebuilt,” he said. According to local authorities, Mosul has sent 90,000 requests for compensation to the central government, including 40,000 for the loss of a loved one and 50,000 for destroyed property. But with dwindling state resources, Baghdad has compensated just 2,500 families. As a result, Naqib said, the once expensive Old City has seen property prices “drop dramatically”.
Flight to new suburbs
Many have turned their backs on Mosul’s once beloved center. Naqib said its original residents have been flocking to his offices to enquire about buying land in the suburbs, which is cheaper and now features better services. On Mosul’s outer edges, farmlands are being gradually replaced by residential complexes with neatly paved roads, reliable electricity and clean water. The new suburbs with names like Zayyuna, Fellah-2 and Jamiyati promise the normalcy and basic services that many Mosul residents have missed for most of the past decade.
Yunes Hassun, a 56-year-old real estate developer from Mosul, said these new suburbs are the city’s future. “These massive building complexes are easier to register with authorities than the old cadastral lots, where the bureaucratic process scares people,” he said. It’s also cheaper, he said, with land selling at the equivalent of $75 to $200 per square meter. Uday Hamid, 42, bought a piece of land just over a year ago and recently finished building his home.
“I was able to buy 200 square meters for around 20 million dinars, while the same money would have bought me half that size in Mosul’s city center,” he said. The father of five said sales are booming in the area. Turning farmland into residential property usually requires a long bureaucratic process under Iraqi zoning laws. But with Mosul’s city-wide reconstruction unlikely, compensation apparently far-off and nearly 1.2 million people still displaced across Iraq, few are paying attention to such regulations-and authorities are struggling to keep up. Mosul’s mayor Zuhayr Al-Araji, asked about the flourishing suburbs, said the city was preparing a proper urban development plan. “It’s still being studied,” he said. – AFP