Sadiya in northeast Diyala use to be one of Iraq’s ghost towns. The town and surrounding district was cleared by a joint operation by the peshmerga and Hashd al-Shaabi in November 2014. The entire population fled either when the Islamic State took over during the summer or during the military campaign to retake it. The victorious forces were then accused of destroying homes there and would not let anyone return. The official reasons were that the area had to be cleared of explosive devices, and there were fears that the locals were Islamic State supporters. The real cause was a political dispute between the Hashd and the Kurds over who would control the district. It took eight months, but that argument was finally resolved and people were allowed to return to their homes in Sadiya.
After Sadiya was freed from the Islamic State in November 2014 the Hashd and Kurds got into a heated rivalry over who was to control the town and the surrounding Khanaqin district. The Kurds claimed the area as part of their disputed territories and wished to annex it. The Hashd forces, which were mostly backed by Iran, declared that the area should be under the central government’s control. In turn, Tehran said it opposed Kurdish independence and therefore was against their forces seizing any territory in Diyala, which might facilitate that endeavor. Because of that dispute, the residents of Sadiya were denied the right to return and the town was left completely empty except for the Hashd and peshmerga forces.
In the summer of 2015 there were the first signs that a breakthrough had been made over the fate of Sadiya. At the end of June, Diyala Governor Muthanna al-Tamimi told the press that the displaced would soon start returning to the town. On July 1, the mayor of Sadiya said that 260 families would start going back to their homes that month. A small group of between 60-70 families had already returned. The government was also trying to get the town back up and running by sending in public employees to get offices and services working again. The first of the 250 families began reaching Sadiya on July 25. Diyala Governor Tamimi and the head of the Badr Organization Hadi Ameri met them. Ameri is the undeclared overlord of the province as he is in charge of security there and the governor is part of his political party. By the start of August 240 families were back in their homes. This was all made possible by a political agreement, which was signed between Kurdish leaders and the provincial council in June. The details of this deal are not known so how the dispute between the two sides was resolved was not clear.
Letting people return to Sadiya was an important step by the government to heal the wounds caused by the Islamic State. Sadiya was one of many towns throughout central and northern Iraq that were cleared, but remained empty for months because the locals were not trusted and there were political arguments about the future of the areas. That helped the Islamic State argue that Baghdad was waging a sectarian war against Sunnis. It did take a long time, but the displaced were finally able to go back to their homes in Sadiya, and a sense of normalcy was able to be restored. This now has to happen to the other ghost towns of Iraq.
Al Forat, “240 displaced families to return to Sa’adiya district in Diyala in next few days: Local official,” 7/1/15
Al Mada, “Committee displaced people are talking about “reverse displacement” in Diyala because of security measures,” 7/15/15
Al Rayy, “240 displaced families return to Saadia in Diyala over the past week,” 8/3/15
Rudaw, “Diyala governor accused of stealing millions in refugee money,” 3/25/15
Shafaq News, “230 families return to Muqdadiyah and more than 650 others close to Jalawla and Saadia,” 7/26/15
- “250 displaced families return to Saadia in the presence of Al-Ameri and al-Tamimi,” 7/25/15
- “Saadia: 80% of employees returned to their departments and 250 displaced families to return soon,” 7/22/15
Sotaliraq, “Diyala governor announces the immediate return of the displaced to Saadia and the continuation of debate on Jalawla,” 6/28/15