|Sinjar (Nadia's Initiative)|
The IOM reviewed 1,427 locations where people were returning to since the war with the Islamic State officially ended. Each area was classified into four categories in terms of their conditions from low severity to medium to high to very high. 52 areas spread across Diyala, Irbil, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salahaddin were considered the worst in the country. IOM provided some details on eight of those places.
Sinjar is located in western Ninewa province along the Syrian border. There less than half the population had returned. Many of the homes were destroyed, and half the neighborhoods had suffered from severe war damage. The rest are moderately destroyed. There was no reconstruction going on when the report was written. Not all the schools were open, 20% of markets were closed, and 70% of the district suffered from a scarcity those markets that were open. Anfrom May 20018 by the group REACH Initiative provided further information about why so few people had returned to the district, and why there was so little rebuilding going on. It added that the southern section of Sinjar was empty because there were unexploded ordinance, which stopped farming from being revived. The local Yazidis also blamed many of the Arab inhabitants of collaborating with the Islamic State and barred them from going home. The majority of the Arab population remained displaced as a result fearing retribution if they went back.
The Ninewa desert is in the center and southern sections of the province. There are few jobs there, all the markets were closed, there was widespread damage to infrastructure, in half of the area there was no reconstruction going on, and in one third there was no water or electricity. This was already a sparsely inhabited region. That would help explain why so little had been done there since the war finished.
Tal Afar is a third location in Ninewa that sits in the west. Half of the homes were occupied by people other than the owners. The militants were still a threat there. One difference from the other areas documented, was that reconciliation was taking place there. That was important because Tal Afar was mostly inhabited by Turkmen who were split between Sunnis and Shiites. Many of the Sunnis were blamed for supporting the insurgency and were forced to flee. A process needs to be established to heal these wounds, and try to re-unite the community if possible.
Abasi is in the southern section of Kirkuk. Most of the infrastructure was destroyed. There were no jobs in the rural areas and few even in the urban center. Farming had partially restarted, but water was severely limited. Finally, IS was still active there as well. The insurgents were never defeated in southern Kirkuk. Instead, they left and hid away during the campaign to clear the area, and quickly returned afterward. This is now one of the core areas IS is regrouping in.
Edheim resides in western Diyala along the border with Salahaddin. There are fears of revenge attacks against people believed to be sympathetic to the Islamic State. Kidnappings have occurred too. There was no unified security presence in the sub-district with five different forces working separately. This allowed space for IS to operate and conduct attacks. There was also no reconciliation going on.
The last areas were all in Salahaddin. Baiji in the northeast was the site of a prolonged and major battle over control of the oil refinery there. There were few returns. All the neighborhoods of Baiji town and the surrounding villages had significant property damage. Reconstruction started in 90% of the sub district however. A major impediment to that work was unexploded ordinance, and less than 4 hours of electricity per day. Water was also in short supply. At the time, 45% of the markets were open. The Tuz Kharmato-Suleiman Beq area is in the east. Suleiman Beq was one of the first places liberated from the insurgents. Tuz Kharmato suffered from deep ethnosectarian divisions between the Kurds, Shiite Turkmen and Arabs. Those splits are on going. They were exacerbated by revenge attacks and property disputes. There is no effort to resolve these problems. There are also movement restrictions upon certain communities. Some areas have also had no returns such as Amerli. Balad is just to the south of Tuz and has similar problems. There is sectarianism, fear of revenge attacks, movement limits, and no reconciliation.
Few of these areas get any kind of press coverage, and when they do its usually for an attack by the Islamic State. That’s why this IOM report was important, because it gave a brief insight into what was going on some of Iraq’s rural areas. The picture was not pretty. These sub districts almost all saw heavy fighting during the war and there is little being done to rebuild them. The economy is still pretty much wrecked, IS sympathizers are being singled out and discriminated against, and just as important the militants are still active in many of them meaning that there is little opportunity to fix these difficult problems. That also means some of these areas could actually deteriorate if violence picks up. That’s already happening in places like southern Kirkuk, where the Islamic State has a strong presence and is going after local officials, the security forces, and infrastructure like electricity towers. This is so unfortunate because Iraq has gone through so much it sometimes seems like it will never have the space to recover.
International Organization for Migration, “Return Index, Findings Round 1 Iraq,” September 2018
REACH Initiative, “Rapid Overview of Areas of Return (ROAR): Sinjar and Surrounding Areas Ninewa Governorate, Iraq – May 2018,” 5/31/18