The on going fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province has led to thousands of families fleeing their homes. The Iraqi Red Crescent claimed that up to 13,000 families, roughly 78,000 people had left their residences so far. Once the situation becomes more secure however, many of these people are likely to return. What is much more worrisome is that ethnosectarian displacement appears to be returning to Iraq due to threats and attacks in not only the north and center of the country where the insurgency is based, but in the south as well. This is another sign that security is deteriorating in Iraq.
In Diyala province in northeastern Iraq the insurgency is attempting to make a comeback. Part of its tactics is to scare and intimidate the local population. In July 2003, the first reports emerged about people being forced out of their homes in the governorate. By October it was said that up to 400 families had fled the area. On October 1 for example, 30 families from the Shammar tribe were displaced from Baquba after receiving a number of threats from gunmen. The next week there was a story that 60 families had left Baquba for the Khalis district after being intimidated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Another 250 mostly Kurdish and Turkmen families left by December. The deteriorating situation led both the provincial council and the governor to ask Baghdad for assistance with the refugees, and to help provide security. Like in the past, the insurgency has carried out a sectarian policy of trying to rid areas that it controls of groups that are not Arab or Sunni. Many consider Shiites apostates, and see them and Kurds and other minorities as non-Iraqis and agents of foreign powers. This was the same reason why they attacked them in the civil war years, and are doing so again today.
Ninewa is witnessing a similar situation. In September 2013, a suicide bomber struck a Shabak funeral in Mosul that killed 15, and wounded another 20. Afterward a number of families left the city for their own protection. Ninewa is one of the most diverse provinces in Iraq. There are a huge number of minorities like the Shabak who insurgents have consistently gone after for not being Muslims. The Shabak community has suffered through a lot of his violence.
The Islamic State is attempting to take and hold territory in Babil, because it provides strategic bases for attacks into both Baghdad and southern Iraq. In December 2013, threats by ISIS led 84 Shiite families to leave their homes in the Musayib district. Afterward insurgents blew up ten of their homes. Before the people were having their farms raided at night, which led the security forces to give each family a gun to protect themselves, but they were too scared to use them. The Islamists’ work paid off when all those families fled.
The troubling thing about this current phase of forced displacement is that it is not just occurring in insurgent hotbeds like Ninewa and Diyala, but in the south as well. In September 2013 150 families from the Sadoun tribe left Dhi Qar for Salahaddin. Local officials claimed that the number was really only seven, but a shooting in a town that was blamed upon the Sadouns led to other locals blaming and threatening them. In November the press ran a few stories that Sunnis were fleeing the city of Basra. Many received threatening letters that they would be killed if they didn’t leave. The Sunni Endowment ended up closing down its mosques in the province for a number of days as a result. It was believed this was retaliation for terrorist attacks upon Shiites in Baghdad and other cities. This didn’t appear to be the work of militias as some Sunnis claimed. Instead it looked to be individuals and tribes retaliating against Sunnis who they believed were responsible for violence either directly like the Sadoun tribe or indirectly like the people in Basra. What made Iraq fall into civil war in the past was when Shiites felt like the Americans and the government could not protect them and they began to take matters into their own hands. The vigilante justice seen in Dhi Qar and Basra was a disturbing trend, which if repeated would mean that Baghdad is losing control over the situation, and cannot even police the relatively peaceful south.
The violence in Iraq today has gone beyond just the headline grabbing bombings or the more mundane drive-by shootings to include the forced displacement of several hundred families across Iraq. Most of this is the work of insurgent groups who are seeking to force non-Sunni Arabs out of their areas. Other incidents however are Shiites taking out their frustrations on Sunnis. That is more disturbing because it was acts such as those that threw the country into civil war in the past. When Shiites get involved in the fighting that is when the country will fall into another sectarian conflict. Iraq is not at that point, but the levels of violence, and the anger it is invoking amongst the general population is disturbing. Tracking refugees is another metric to follow to determine if Iraq falls off the precipice.
Agence France Presse, “Tribes, police seize parts of Iraq city from militants,” 1/10/14
AIN, "Gunmen displaced 30 families northern Baquba," 10/1/13
- “MP: 110 families of Anbar province emigrate due to armed groups’ threats,” 9/6/13
Buratha News, “84 displaced families from a household begins displacement to Musayyib and Babylon acknowledge control of al-Qaeda,” 1/3/14
Lewis, Jessica, “Further Indications of al-Qaeda’s Advance in Iraq: Iraq Update #39,” Institute for the Study of War, 11/15/13
Al-Mada, “Diyala National Alliance warns: Displacement returned to the province and 400 families displaced from Baquba,” 10/14/13
- “Fallujah residents content themselves with one meal for fear of running out of food and thousands displaced,” 1/5/14
Maher, Ahmed, “Violence in Iraq sparks new sectarian displacement,” BBC Arabic, 11/6/13
National Iraqi News Agency, "BREAKING NEWS. Killing and wounding of /25/ civilian ,east of Mosul," 9/14/13
- “Displacement of more than 60//family from Baquba city to Khalis district in Diyala province,” 10/9/13
- “Ten houses blown up in Hilla,” 12/31/13
Shafaq News, “8000 displaced form Fallujah residents to Erbil,” 1/7/14
Al-Shammari, Salam, “More Iraqi families flee sectarian violence,” Azzaman, 12/29/13