The devastation the so-called Islamic State wreaked on the Iraqi city of Mosul stuns the senses. Suicide bombers blew up the hospital so that ISIS leaders being treated there couldn’t be captured and interrogated. A water plant mechanic tells of being lashed 40 times because his wife answered the door unveiled. An engineer tells of seeing neighbors burned alive. Children haven’t been to school in nearly three years. The jewel of a university, some of the most modern buildings in the city, are rubble; its library’s 2 million volumes now ashes. ISIS defaced statues, burned churches, blew up the central mosque, and knocked over the minaret of Mosul’s landmark mosque. Junk yards of burned vehicles extend thousands of yards along the highway. I witnessed all those things in Iraq at the invitation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to look at the challenges of political, economic, and social reconstruction.
An extended Sunni family from the Kurdish region that came to Mosul during the fighting, suspected of complicity with ISIS, isn’t being allowed to return. The Kurdish regional government argues it needs to screen everyone who fled toward ISIS to prevent infiltration; others see a pattern of Kurds consolidating control over disputed territory. Kurdish leaders say political and military failures of the Baghdad government necessitate military forces independent of Baghdad; the central government argues it is yet one more effort by Kurds to destroy the country—an accusation reinforced by Kurdistan holding a referendum in September on becoming an independent state.