Ramadi was finally cleared at the start of February 2016. Afterward local officials warned that it would take anywhere from two to six months for the city to be cleared of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left behind by the defeated Islamic State. The problem was politicians and religious leaders were already encouraging people to go back to the city, which ended with dozens being killed and wounded by the bombs. The military stepped in and halted returns, while the local leaders began blaming each other for who was responsible for the casualties.
Rising fatalities in Ramadi led to a halt in returns to the city in April. On April 24 the Iraqi forces stopped people going back to Ramadi. Up to that point at least 49 people had died and 79 were wounded from explosions according to the United Nations. The process to remove the IEDs was slowed due to a lack of experts and contractors to do the job. That didn’t stop religious and political leaders telling people to go back to the city despite the dangers. This was despite the fact that the head of the security committee on the Anbar council said it would take two months or more to remove all of the explosives, while the Khalidiya council estimated it might take as long as six months. Those comments were made in March, while residents had already begun returning in February almost immediately after the city had been freed. That was obviously premature.
Anbar officials were originally touting returns. The International Organization for Migration said that around 71,000 people had arrived in the Ramadi area since the start of March. In April Ramadi politicians were noting that generators had been set up to provide electricity, water was being pumped in from the Euphrates, ten schools had been repaired, and 600 tents had been set up for those without homes. When it became public that dozens of people were dying and being injured by bombs, the tone quickly changed to an accusatory one amongst the province’s leaders.
Who told people to go back to Ramadi became a political dispute between the ruling Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) and the Sunni Endowment. The Anbar Governor Suhabi al-Rawi held the Endowment responsible for the deaths of returnees since it was given responsibility for the process by Prime Minister Haidar Abadi. The head of the Endowment countered by saying the authorities were stopping people from going back to their homes, and accused the IIP of purposefully mining houses in the city. In turn the governor created a committee to investigate the Endowment. This blame game highlighted the struggle for power within the province. The two groups worked closely together during he Sunni protests that started in Ramadi in 2012, but then went their separate ways. They are now competing for control of Anbar, which the IIP has considered its base since it took power there in 2005. As the head of the security committee on the Khalidiya council aptly pointed out, these parties are vying for influence at the expense of the citizenry.
Anbar leaders were well aware of the dangers the recently freed city of Ramadi still posed. The Islamic State had planted hundreds of IEDs throughout the area as part of its defenses, and then left booby traps as it withdrew. It was going to take months to secure the city, but the Islamic Party and Sunni Endowment wanted to score political points by having people back as soon as possible to build upon the success of defeating the militants. The displaced were the ones that paid the price for this escapade. Even though the security forces have barred further returns, there are now tens of thousands already in Ramadi who will continue to suffer the consequences of the political rivalry going on between the IIP and Endowment.
Associated Press, “Thousands Return to Iraq’s Ramadi, Where IS Was Driven Out,” 4/10/16
Chmaytelli, Maher, “Iraqis displaced from western city of Ramadi begin to return home,” Reuters, 4/3/16
International Organization for Migration, “Displacement in Iraq Exceeds 3.4 Million: IOM,” 4/19/16
Kalin, Stephen, “Islamic State mines kill dozens of civilians returning to Ramadi,” Reuters, 4/22/16
Al Mada, “Anbar governor announces the formation of a committee to investigate the accusations against Al-Hmam and invites him to present evidence,” 4/23/16
- “Clearing mines in Ramadi needs two months .. And politics hinder freeing Garma,” 3/17/16
- “Mutual accusations between the Islamic Party and Sunni Endowment regarding booby-trapped homes in Ramadi,” 4/23/16
Reuters, “Iraqi military freezes civilians’ return to Ramadi over mine deaths,” 4/24/16
Sotaliraq, “Ramadi needs six months to remove improvised explosives devices and war waste in city,” 3/20/16