Iraq is suffering through yet another internal refugee crisis. Previous to the current insurgent offensive there were over 1 million Iraqis who lost their homes during the civil war period and never returned. Now there is another wave of internally displaced, which started with the fighting in Anbar in January, and increased after the fall of Mosul in June. The majority of these new refugees come from Anbar, Ninewa and Salahaddin. In the midst of this new crisis several thousand families have fled Baghdad province. Most of these Iraqis appear to be Sunnis that are fleeing random arrests and harassment by the Iraqi Security Forces as well as the return of militias to the streets.
Over 4,000 Baghdadis have become displaced in 2014. In a July report the International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted 706 families displaced from Baghdad province, a total of 4,236 individuals since January. 54% of the families went to Anbar, while the rest were spread across Basra, Babil, within Baghdad, Qadisiyah, Maysan, Karbala, Wasit and Dhi Qar. Around 100 of those families left their homes recently from June 1 to July 16 showing that the displacement is on going. Since most of them went to Anbar they are likely Sunnis. The IOM gave no reason for why people fled, but the return of militias and increased harassment by the security forces could be major causes. Overall violence in Baghdad could be another reason, but the number of attacks and casualties has remained relatively the same in 2014, and the number of car bombs has actually decreased. In January there were 47 vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), then 38 in February, 29 in March, 18 in April, 23 in May, and 12 in June. What has changed about the security situation in the capital is that armed Shiite groups are back on the streets. With that more bodies have been dumped in Baghdad. In January 31 bodies were found in the capital, followed by 35 in February, 28 in March, 28 in April, 39 in May, and 42 in June. In June for instance the Muslim Scholars Associated accused militias of killing an imam and two of his aides. The re-birth of the insurgency has also led to increased security measures aimed at Sunni neighborhoods. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have been accused of cordoning off Sunni areas, not allowing people to leave or enter, and carrying out mass arrests. For example, on January 11, a parliamentarian from Speaker Osama Nujafi’s Mutahidun demanded that the prime minister stop the lockdown of Abu Ghraib, Latifiya, and Radwaniya. In June, the New York Times talked with people from Amiriya who said that men in unmarked vehicles wearing military uniforms took away a woman’s two sons in the middle of the night. In July the Los Angeles Times interviewed people in Adhamiya who accused the government forces of random arrests, and harassment. One man said that his father was in jail, while his younger brother had been arrested seven times forcing him to flee to Kurdistan. It appears that many others have followed him in leaving Baghdad. If more open sectarian violence were to return to the capital there would be an even greater exodus as happened before.
Sunnis fleeing Baghdad is yet another sign that Iraqi society is fraying. The fact that militias are again openly operating there and being accused of taking people away and dumping their bodies shows the breakdown of order. Not only that but government forces are carrying out group punishment of Sunni neighborhoods singling them out for blockades, raids, and mass and arbitrary arrests. Together these are probably leading factors for thousands of Sunni families fleeing the governorate. The demographics of Baghdad went through a dramatic transformation during the sectarian war as militias and the security forces forced most of the Sunni population out. This could all be happening again as the newest wave of displaced points to.
International Organization for Migration, “Displacement Tracking Matrix|DTM Iraq Crisis 2014,” 7/16/14
McDonnell, Patrick, “Proud Sunni neighborhood writhes under Iraq’s Shiite security forces,” Los Angeles Times, 7/20/14
Rubin, Alissa and Nordland, Rod, “Shiite Violence Traps Baghdad’s Sunnis, Haunted by a Grim Past,” New York Times, 6/25/14
Shafaq News, “MP demands Maliki to lift the siege of Baghdad areas belt,” 1/11/14
Sly, Liz, Hauslohner, Abigail and Morris, Loveday, “Fears of sectarian killings rise in Baghdad after Sunni imam, two aides found dead,” Washington Post, 6/17/14