Thursday, January 30, 2014

Forced Displacement Returns To Iraq Part II

Starting in the summer of 2013 disturbing stories began emerging from Iraq of both armed groups and regular citizens forcing people out of their homes due to their sect or ethnicity. This occurred in Diyala, Ninewa, and Babil where the Islamic State of Iraq and other insurgent groups were likely responsible. There were also reports of refugees from Dhi Qar and Basra as well where angry citizens forced people out because they were blamed for violence, or being scapegoated for the actions of militants in the rest of the country. It now appears that this trend actually started a bit earlier in the year and affected up to 1,000 families. This is another sign of the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

The NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq recently issued a letter warning of the increasing number of internal refugees. While most of the letter was about the humanitarian situation in Anbar it mentioned that from April to December 2013 more than 1,000 families, roughly 5,000 people had been forced from their homes in Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa, and Basra. Those were exactly the areas where the press reported displacement as well. In Diyala for example, the Shammar tribe fled Baquba after receiving threats from gunmen, while intimidation by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) led to more than 300 families, mostly Kurds and Turkmen, leaving their homes from October to December. In Ninewa, Shabaks were targeted in September leading to a number of them fleeing Mosul. Finally in Basra, Sunni officials, professionals, and religious men were threatened and killed in retaliation for terrorist attacks in the rest of the country. That led the Sunni Endowment to shut down its mosques in the province for a short while partly to protest the situation, and partly out of security concerns. There were news stories of Sunnis leaving the governorate afterward. The forced displacement of Iraqis was a trademark of the civil war years in Iraq from 2006-2008. Armed factions sought to push out rival groups, which had a devastating affect on not only Baghdad but many surrounding provinces as well. One tactic that ISIS is trying to follow once again is increasing sectarian tensions by attacking the Shiite population. This usually takes the form of car bombs, but now has expanded into threatening people out of their homes as well. Kurds and Turkmen have been included in this campaign because they are not Arabs, and therefore do not have a place in the organization’s vision of an Arab Muslim society. Just as worrisome were the stories coming out of Basra, because that appeared to be the work of angry tribes and regular people who were frustrated by the never ending attacks by ISIS and others.

The security situation in Iraq is taking a turn for the worse. The new wave of refugees is just the latest sign. The displacement in Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa, and Basra are being met by a new wave from Anbar. With the government proving largely incapable of dealing with the insurgency it is unknown when and if any of these people will be able to return to their homes. The stories of their displacement is also raising tensions in the country, and increasing fears of what direction the country is taking.


Hargreaves, Benjamin, “Ongoing Conflict in Anbar Compounds Iraq’s IDP Challenge,” NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq, 1/21/14

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