2017-05-16 17:54:00

HAMAM AL-ALIL, Iraq — During a visit south of Mosul on Monday, a senior US official praised territorial gains against the Islamic State group in Iraq, but local officials cautioned more aid is needed to rebuild following victories against the extremists.


The Mosul fight is approaching its ‘‘final stages,’’ Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition against the Islamic State, said during a meeting with Iraqi military and civilian officials at a water treatment plant near the town of Hamam al-Alil.




‘‘The world is now seeing that (Iraqi) soldiers are completely destroying Daesh,’’ McGurk said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group that is also referred to as ISIS and ISIL. He described the fight to retake Mosul, which was launched nearly seven months ago, as one of the most difficult urban battles since World War II.


But the men who had gathered to receive McGurk and US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman were dressed in suits, not fatigues, and they had come asking for aid, not weapons and training.


With the fight against ISIS in Iraq about to enter its fourth year, more than half of the territory the extremists once held is now under government control, but with those advances has come greater demand for reconstruction money.


The US military footprint in Iraq has steadily grown in the buildup to and throughout the Mosul operation, but US funds for humanitarian relief and stabilization remain a fraction of defense spending in this fight.


‘‘We are looking for more support as the west side of the city will be liberated soon,’’ Major General Muhammed al-Shimary with Nineveh Operations Command told McGurk after thanking him for US assistance in the fight so far.




McGurk said the water treatment plant that now provides water to more than 100,000 people in Nineveh is ‘‘symbolic of this entire effort that we’ve embarked upon to defeat Daesh.’’


‘‘Here in Nineveh we have hundreds of projects like this funded by our coalition,’’ he said, adding that a similar list of reconstruction projects was being drawn up for the rebel-held Syrian city of Raqqa as US-led coalition forces surround it ahead of a long-anticipated operation to retake it.


But overall, US contributions to Iraqi reconstruction are unlikely to meet the country’s needs. Iraq continues to struggle with an economic crisis and the central government has called on the international community to provide the bulk of the funds.


Last year under the Obama administration, McGurk emphasized the need for a balance between ‘‘speed and sustainability’’ in the fight against the Islamic State.


‘‘Before you launch a major operation you have to have in place who is going to hold the city, who is going to govern the city,’’ he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during testimony in June 2016.


However, President Trump has pledged to accelerate the military fight. While the White House has yet to release an official overhaul of the fight, since taking office Trump has handed greater decision-making power regarding troop levels in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to the Pentagon.


Additionally, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has emphasized the limited role the United States will play in reconstruction in Iraq and Syria.


‘‘As a coalition we are not in the business of nation-building or reconstruction,’’ Tillerson said during a meeting of foreign ministers in Washington in March. Instead, he said the United States would equip ‘‘war torn communities to take the lead in rebuilding their institutions and returning to stability.’’


As of March 31, the Pentagon has spent $12.5 billion on the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria with daily costs averaging $13 million since the operation was launched in 2014.