Interview with our country representative in Iraq on the liberation of Mosul
Stefan Jansen, 34, is Malteser International’s country representative in Iraq. Together with his team of twenty, he coordinates Malteser International’s healthcare projects in the north of the country, intended to provide help for people fleeing from Mosul and the surrounding towns and villages. In the neighboring region of Tal Afar, we distribute non-food-items such as mattresses, hygiene articles, towels, and solar lamps, and operate two additional mobile medical units to help the sick and wounded. The desert-like area is partially still held by the so-called Islamic State (IS). Temperatures currently reach up to 46 °C. A high number of undernourished children are living in the newly freed regions and many people there have not seen a doctor for years. Across the area, infrastructure has been systematically destroyed by IS.
What is the current situation in Mosul?
On 9 July 2017, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi officially declared Mosul freed of IS. It is important to note that the forces which successfully freed the city consisted of a coalition of several security forces. The Iraqi army was supported by several militias on the ground and by international forces in the air. However, Mosul’s liberation does not mean that the city is safe again. Occasional fighting still takes place, especially in its western part. Meanwhile, IS still has control over large regions of the country. IS in Iraq has not yet been defeated.
What difference has the liberation from IS had in Mosul?
Well, the media in Iraq are of course overflowing with news on the retaking. But personally I am neither relieved nor hopeful about whether normality will come back to this region. The complex context on the ground does not necessarily promise a bright future for Northern Iraq. That is also why we are not seeing any major changes in this region. The safety regulations are still the same, and so there is no real sense of relief and no victory parades on the streets. War is still raging in the country.
How are the people in Mosul feeling?
Many people have stayed in Mosul. Those who were lucky enough to flee the city have settled in camps. We work to help take care of these displaced people together with other aid organizations. In particular, Malteser International is contributing to providing healthcare in these camps. In total, about 900,000 people have fled from the Nineveh region. However, 220,000 people have already returned to the freed areas, especially to the region lying to the east of the Tigris River. We have not yet seen many returnees in the west.
Can you give us a picture of the current situation in the city of Mosul?
The city has been shaken to its foundations. Numerous buildings are in acute danger of collapsing, Mosul’s infrastructure has been almost entirely destroyed. There is a severe lack of basic necessities like food, drinking water, and healthcare. Malteser International is operating in the eastern part of Nineveh, which is right now a relatively safe area.
How have you helped the people there so far?
So far, we have offered healthcare services and have distributed relief goods to meet people’s basic needs. The kits we handed out contained tarpaulins, bedsheets, mattresses, kitchen articles, solar lamps, jerry cans, and hygiene articles.
How will Malteser International’s approach change now that Mosul is free?
We want to continue distributing relief goods while also gradually rebuilding healthcare capacities. We are also implementing projects aimed at providing basic healthcare for internally displaced persons and the local population, as we assume that this type of help will still be needed for quite some time.
In order to offer the local population and returnees a better quality of life, we want to intensify our work in the areas of training and income-generation – setting our focus on the medical sector. In the future we also want to offer psychosocial support, especially to war-traumatized women.
Will there now be peace in the region?
The security situation in Iraq is very complex, and it depends on a range of different factors. There is still a long road ahead until a reconciliation between the different ethnic groups can be reached. However, the push towards greater independence by the Kurdistan autonomous region along with the mutual resentment of several of the Arab groups does not promise lasting peace. We are afraid the security situation especially in Northern Iraq will continue to be strongly volatile, even after IS has been militarily defeated.
What about the regions that have not yet been freed from IS, like Tal Afar? How can we work there?
We are active in the region to the west of Mosul city within a safe distance from the fighting taking place in Tal Afar. At the moment we can only work in these regions with great effort and with the help of security forces. To give you an idea: Due to the road conditions and the large number of military checkpoints, a 160 km drive starting from Erbil to this region takes eight to ten hours.
What does the liberation of Mosul mean for the overall fight against IS? How much power does IS still have?
IS is still active in Iraq, and still has some western regions on the border with Syria under its control. Nevertheless, IS has definitely been weakened. This could however make it even more dangerous. We can expect the number of suicide attacks to rise, especially in quiet areas. It will still take quite some time until IS is ultimately militarily defeated in both Iraq and Syria. Even then, the indoctrination and the world view behind by IS will almost certainly continue to live on in the minds of many.
What are the next steps Malteser International will take in order to help the people in Iraq?
As a humanitarian non-governmental organization, Malteser International can only work together with our partners. These include the United Nations, other organizations, and local authorities. We view ourselves as being part of a whole. We will plan our next steps to provide emergency assistance and the transition towards a reconstruction of the healthcare system in close cooperation with these partners.