US offensive drives back IS
As US-led offensives drive back Islamic State in Iraq, concern is growing among US and UN officials that efforts to stabilise liberated areas are lagging, creating conditions that could help the militants endure as an underground network.
One major worry is that not enough money is being committed to rebuild the devastated provincial capital of Ramadi and other towns, let alone Islamic State-held Mosul, the ultimate target in Iraq of the US-led campaign.
Lise Grande, the No. 2 UN official in Iraq, told Reuters that the United Nations is urgently seeking $400 million from Washington and its allies for a new fund to bolster reconstruction in cities like Ramadi, which suffered vast damage when US-backed Iraqi forces recaptured it in December.
“We worry that if we don’t move in this direction, and move quickly, the progress being made against ISIL may be undermined or lost,” Grande said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Adding to the difficulty of stabilising freed areas are Iraq’s unrelenting political infighting, corruption, a growing fiscal crisis and the Shiite Muslim-led government’s fitful efforts to reconcile with aggrieved minority Sunnis, the bedrock of Islamic State support.
Some senior US military officers share the concern that post-conflict reconstruction plans are lagging behind their battlefield efforts, officials said.
“We’re not going to bomb our way out of this problem,” one US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Islamic State is far from defeated. The group still controls much of its border-spanning “caliphate,” inspires eight global affiliates and is able to orchestrate deadly external attacks like those that killed 32 people in Brussels on March 22.
But at its core in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State appears to be in slow retreat. Defence analysis firm IHS Janes estimates the group lost 22 percent of its territory over the last 15 months.
Washington has spent vastly more on the war than on reconstruction. The military campaign cost $6.5 billion from 2014 through February 29, according to the Pentagon.
The United States has contributed $15 million to stabilisation efforts, donated $5 million to help clear explosives in Ramadi and provided “substantial direct budget support” to Iraq’s government, said Emily Horne, a National Security Council spokeswoman.
Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the need for more reconstruction aid while in Baghdad last week.
“As more territory is liberated from Daesh, the international community has to step up its support for the safe and voluntary return of civilians to their homes,” Kerry said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Kerry, who announced $155 million in additional US aid for displaced Iraqis, said US President Barack Obama planned to raise the issue at a summit of Gulf Arab leaders on April 21.
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