After liberation from IS, Fallujah struggles to rebuild
Even as Iraqi forces in Mosul close in on the last pockets of urban territory still held by the Islamic State (IS) group, residents of Fallujah in Iraq's Sunni heartland are still struggling to rebuild nearly a year after their neighbourhoods were declared liberated from the extremists.
After declaring the city liberated last June, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the victory a major step towards unifying Iraq more than two years after nearly a third of the country fell to IS. "Fallujah has returned to the nation," he declared in a speech broadcast nationwide.
But in the months that followed, while the Iraqi government compiled databases and set up tight checkpoints on the main roads in and out of Fallujah to screen residents for suspected ties with IS, it provided little in the way of reconstruction money, local officials say. Sheikh Talib Al-Hasnawi, the head of Fallujah's municipal council, said international aid is what has provided electricity, repaired water pumps and built filtration systems.
"We have a real problem with (IS) sleeper cells," he said, adding that what Fallujah needs most is a strong security force to prevent the extremists from re-establishing a foothold in the city some 65 kilometres (40 miles) west of Baghdad. "Honestly, the support from Baghdad has been very weak," he added, noting that his repeated requests for more equipment and arms for the city's local police have gone unheeded.
"So, mostly, we are relying on the civilians to alert us to threats," he said. "All we can provide are the very basics."
Dr Mahdi al-Alak, the secretary general of the Iraqi Cabinet, said the government has budgeted about $19.5 billion for stabilisation-related projects in Anbar Province, where Fallujah is located.