July 21, 2017

What’s Next for Mosul, and What It Means for the U.S.

By Sean Hansen

As Congress moves full-speed ahead marking up its FY18 spending bills this week, the city of Mosul was recently liberated from ISIS— serving as a reminder of today’s global challenges. But even as Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi delivered a victory speech from the heart of the ancient city, the pressing humanitarian crisis loomed overhead. Since the battle for Mosul began, 900,000 Iraqis have fled the city and surrounding areas, including 700,000 that remain displaced today.

Given the dire need, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been outspoken about the humanitarian crises facing the Middle East, pledging that U.S. aid will continue: “We’re the number one donor here through this crisis. That’s not going to stop.” Haley’s comments followed her return from an overseas trip where she visited refugee camps in both Turkey and Jordan, commending those nation’s efforts as “phenomenal” in hosting the largest number of Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the world: a combined 3.5 million people.

Challenges Ahead. But aid workers on the ground have underscored that “a lot of people are stuck inside the city with very little access to food, water and medical care.” Addressing the root causes that led to the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is critical to preventing the reemergence of conflict in the region. The pending humanitarian emergency in Mosul will undoubtedly require vital assistance from the international community to coordinate reconstruction, improve local governance, and reduce corruption. U.S. foreign assistance and strong international leadership at organizations like the U.N. can help to foster sustainable stability in Mosul by facilitating economic growth, political inclusion, and improving education— but it won’t be easy.

In a recent statement, Lisa Grande, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, stated that “the fighting may be over, but the humanitarian crisis is not.” According to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 11 million Iraqis are still in need of humanitarian assistance, with another 3.4 million internally displaced. As thousands of Iraqis begin to return to Mosul, access to basic necessities like water and food is certain to remain a struggle. Food in the city has dwindled as the last remnants of ISIS militants had seized what little remained.

Short on Resources. As the U.S. mission in Mosul shifts from a predominantly military campaign to one of diplomacy and development, the U.N. has requested over $900 million in international commitments to help rebuild Mosul. But as of today, less than half has been pledged. But it’s not just the U.N. that is falling short of commitments.

Despite Ambassador Haley’s commitment, the White House’s FY18 budget proposal recommended draconian cuts to foreign assistance and humanitarian response efforts, seeking to slash funding by up to a third of FY17 levels. Although an increase in $150 million was approved this month to support UNDP programs in Iraq, Ambassador Haley recently remarked before Congress that the budget cuts should serve a “starting point” for negotiations on foreign assistance levels.

With the stakes as high as they are today, slashing aid levels in the face of such incredible humanitarian need could prove disastrous in the long run. Defense Secretary James Mattis seems to agree. When asked recently about the proposed cuts to USAID and development agencies like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Mattis stated that “Congress will not probably tolerate all those cuts,” emphasizing that “I think we’ll see the right thing done on this.”

Unfortunately, the situation we see in Mosul has become increasingly characteristic of today’s crises. Just ten years ago, 80% of humanitarian efforts went toward natural disaster response, whereas today, 80% of humanitarian assistance is in response to conflict-driven or man-made crises.

Congress will soon determine the levels of U.S. assistance available to Mosul and other global humanitarian crises. Rebuilding Mosul will be a critical test and an enormous challenge, yet the future of Iraq— and the future of America’s presence abroad— may well depend on what emerges from the city’s rubble.

Photo: A young Iraqi girl waits outside of her house during a clearing operation in the Rasalkoor District of Mosul, Iraq, May 27 / Senior Airman Kamaile Chan, CC.