The on going fighting in Iraq has now displaced over three million people. Not only have they lost their homes, but their plight is also made more difficult by a number of other issues. That includes the government not letting people return to certain areas and facing prejudice, while the official agencies in charge of providing them aid have continuously been charged with corruption. That leads many of these people to fend for themselves, and some will likely never be able to go back to their homes.
In June 2015 it was announced that the number of displaced in Iraq had surpassed three million people. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted 3,087,372 people who had lost their homes by the middle of June. The last major displacement occurred in Anbar after the Islamic State (IS) seized the provincial capital of Ramadi in the middle of May. The IOM said over 276,330 people fled the city from April to the middle of June. According to the group, Anbar has the most displaced with 1,162,998, followed by 1,052,016 from Ninewa, and 453,054 from Salahaddin. The United Nations noted that Dohuk is the home to the most displaced with more than 200,000 people, followed by Anbar, Kirkuk, Ninewa with 100,000-200,000 displaced each, and then Baghdad and Najaf with 50,000-100,000 each. The real number of people who have lost their homes is much higher. Many do not register with the government or aid groups for a number of reasons including squatting illegally in areas and entering provinces without official approval.
According to a U.N. timeline there were 87,630 families displaced in June 2014 when IS seized Mosul, Tikrit, and parts of Kirkuk province. That quickly grew to over 196,000 families by September, before almost doubling to 353,890 families at the end of the year after further insurgent successes in taking most of Anbar. By February 2015 there were over 422,000 families that had lost their homes, finally passing the 500,000 mark in June.
The plight of the displaced has been complicated by government polices, discrimination, and corruption. First, pro-Baghdad forces have not allowed people to return to some areas. Places like Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil, Jalawla and Sadiya in Diyala, and others remain empty of people months after they were freed from the Islamic State. The reasons vary from there still being explosive devices in the towns to political disputes over who should control the areas to tribal arguments to not trusting the locals because they are accused of being supporters of IS. That last issue has led to families from Anbar, Diyala and Ninewa being stereotyped as security threats. For example, in January Kirkuk expelled displaced people from Diyala accusing them of fomenting violence. The next month, IRIN reported on Turkmen from Tal Afar in Ninewa who were not allowed into Kurdistan because the authorities accused them of backing the Islamic State. Finally, in Baghdad people from Anbar have been blamed for bombings, face harassment from the security forces, and are often confined to certain areas. On top of that the Ministry of Migration, a special committee for refugees under Deputy Premier Salah al-Mutlaq, and other officials have been accused of stealing money meant for the displaced. These charges have gone on for months and include everything from government workers registering themselves as displaced to get aid money to refugees having to pay bribes to get help to skimming money off of goods bought for them. In one specific example, the former governor of Diyala was charged with stealing around $4.3 million meant for the displaced in his province. This all points to a breakdown in the government’s ability to serve and protect the populace. This has been driven by fears of the Islamic State that has led to the persecution of some of the displaced. At the same time, the rampant corruption within the government has denied people the money and services they are supposed to be provided. That has led the U.N. and other aid groups to provide the bulk of the assistance to the displaced. Again, these organizations don’t reach all of those that have lost their homes, and they also lack the resources to fully assist those that have registered with them because of a lack of adequate funding.
As fighting continues in Iraq more people are going to be displaced. They will join the others that are being neglected by the government due to theft and graft that steals their aid, and because some of them will be labeled as Islamic Stat backers. Some will never return to their homes, joining the over one million who never went back after the 2005-2008 civil war. International organizations such as the U.N. and IOM are strained to cope with this crisis because of the size of the catastrophe. They were already lacking money before the fall of Mosul, and that problem has only increased since then. This all adds up to a humanitarian disaster, which Iraq is proving ill prepared to deal with.
Abbas, Mushreq, “Displaced Iraqis still wait to return home,” Al Monitor, 6/24/15
Arango, Tim, “Sunnis Fleeing ISIS Find Few Doors Opened Elsewhere in Iraq,” New York Times, 5/27/15
International Organization for Migration, “Displacement in Iraq Tops 3 Million,” 6/23/15
Iraq News Network, “Union forces demanding Abadi remove Mutlaq from Commission on Displaced,” 5/22/15
IRIN, “Corruption disrupts government aid to Iraq’s displaced,” 10/22/14
Al-Jawoshy, Omar and Arango, Tim, “Iraqi Families Return to Fragile Stability in Tikrit After Liberation From ISIS,” New York Times, 6/22/15
Al-Kadhimi, Mustafa, “Ramadi’s displaced find restrictions, not refuge, in Baghdad,” Al Monitor 5/28/15
Al Mada, “Member of the parliamentary integrity calls for the abolition of the Commission for relief to the displaced due to corruption and return its work to another,” 11/2/14
Morris, Loveday, “Iraqi Sunni flee Anbar only to find new dangers in Baghdad,” Washington Post, 5/17/15
New Sabah, “Kirkuk to expel thousands of displaced people from Diyala and pierce their identity cards,” 1/1/15
Al Rafidayn, “Parliamentary Integrity Committee: Financial corruption within displaced commission,” 10/28/14
Rudaw, “Diyala governor accused of stealing millions in refugee money,” 3/25/15
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “Iraq – CCCM: IDP Populations & Settlements Situation,” 6/25/15
Wolf, Mat, “No-man’s land: the Iraqis trapped between IS and the Kurds,” IRIN, 2/12/15