In June 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized Ba’ashiqah, a small town located just outside the city of Mosul in northern Iraq’s Ninewa Province. Families were forced to flee their homes, taking with them only what they could carry on their backs or fit in their vehicles. Those who remained suffered two years of brutal occupation by ISIS. Iraqi forces launched a massive offensive to retake the town during the Battle for Mosul, and the town was liberated from ISIS control in early November 2016. However, area residents continue to face daily dangers from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left behind by fleeing ISIS fighters.
As part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’ efforts to help hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis return to their homes in areas liberated from ISIS, the United States is working to clear these explosive hazards. Recently, we told the story of clearing explosive hazards to restore the Hammam Al Alil cement factory outside Mosul. This is another story of how we are helping set the stage for countless towns like Ba’ashiqah to rebuild.
ISIS adopted a “scorched earth” policy in many of the areas it controlled, including Ba’ashiqah. The terrorist group tried to make it impossible for civilians to re-inhabit them either by destroying or by placing explosives around critical infrastructure, such as electrical equipment, water treatment facilities, hospitals, public health centers, and schools. With support from the Department of State and U.S. Embassy Baghdad, our implementing partner Janus Global Operations has undertaken the difficult and dangerous job of finding and safely removing many of these explosive hazards. This work will allow local governments and humanitarian organizations to conduct the hard work of repairing and rebuilding infrastructure, a key first step to enabling families to return home and begin bringing daily life back to normal.
Operations in Ba’ashiqah show the importance of getting key infrastructure back online. The town’s water system suffered extensive damage during the fight to liberate the town; what remained was ringed with deadly IEDs. After the town was freed from ISIS, initial efforts to repair the facilities were hampered by explosive hazards that made it unsafe for workers and equipment to be brought in to make repairs. Recently, Janus completed clearance of explosives from around the Basakhrah water well, pump house, and water pipeline which serve the local agricultural office and surrounding homes.
The primary explosive threats hampering repairs were two large IED belts that were placed by ISIS to protect against attacks by the Iraqi forces. One of the IED belts ran parallel to the pipeline and presented a major threat to teams tasked with repairing the conduit. After identifying the threat, a U.S.-funded Janus team swiftly deployed to the site to conduct clearance operations. In 35 days, Janus successfully completed the clearance of the pipeline, pump house, and water well, allowing the site manager to return and begin repair work. Once fully repaired, the facility will provide water for as many as two thousand families. During the course of this project, Janus cleared 11,700 square meters (approx. 125,938 sq. ft.) of previously contaminated land and removed 237 IEDs.
With smart investments in the work of partners like Janus to support reconstruction, the United States demonstrates its enduring commitment to partnership with the Iraqi people. These efforts are not only making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis, but they are also hastening the defeat of ISIS, a violent and merciless terrorist group which threatens international security, including the security of the United States and its allies.
About the Author: Solomon Black is a Program Manager for the Middle East in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.