Aid groups are really the only ones consistently reporting on the liberated areas of Iraq. Many of these places are rural and the government isn’t even that present. The United Nations’ Migration Agency, Returns Working Group, and Social Inquiry released a paper on the displaced returning home that contained information on the Ramadi district in Anbar, Sadiya and Jalawla in Diyala, Abbasi in Kirkuk, west Mosul, Sinjar, and Tal Afar in Ninewa, and Baiji and Tuz Kharmato in Salahaddin. All were considered hotspots due to local tensions, the lack of housing and services, and other issues they are encountering since they were freed from the Islamic State.
The Ramadi district is in eastern Anbar and includes the towns of Husaiba, Sharqiya, Khalidiya, and Habaniya. The major concerns are jobs, services, and housing destruction. 80% of areas for example reported power shortages. There are also fears of revenge attacks and kidnappings. The Islamic State is not really considered a problem. The real source of tension is tribal conflicts which have increased. Many tribes split during the war between supporting the insurgency and backing the government. Those that lost the war are being shunned and sometimes banned from areas. Sheikhs are also vying for power in the local governments and for contracts, adding to the rivalries.
Jalawla and Sadiya are in northeast Diyala. 90% of the housing is destroyed and rebuilding is only going on in 10% of the area. The electricity supply has deteriorated since the end of 2018. One-third of the areas do not have enough clean water, and 14 locations had no water at all. There is also a lack of jobs. Access to schools is uneven with some not having re-opened in Jalawla. Security is a concern as well as the Islamic State has consistently hit the area. That’s because the federal government took control of the two places in 2017 and lacks the forces to adequately secure it.
Abbasi is part of the Hawija district in southern Kirkuk. The infrastructure has improved since the end of 2018, but water is only available to half the population. Electricity on the other hand is in good supply. There is widespread housing destruction at a moderate level. Jobs are also a concern, and farming has only partially restarted. All the schools are open and there is access to health centers. The lack of services and livelihoods, as well as housing damage are major reasons for people not returning to their home areas.
West Mosul is still in a poor state. Half the housing in the residential district is severely damaged. Electricity and water are in short supply. 50% said they only received water 1-3 days out of the week at most. Despite the difficulties there has been a steady stream of returns.
Sinjar is in western Ninewa. Less than half the population has returned. That’s because more than 50% of the residences are destroyed, and there is no reconstruction going on. That has led to 73% of the locations being occupied by squatters. Few businesses or markets are open as well. There is a scarcity of goods for those that are accessible. People believe there has been a deterioration in safety and that ethnosectarian tensions between Yazidis and Arabs is growing. Many of the latter are considered IS supporters and fear that Yazidis will take revenge upon them. There is also the threat of the Islamic State. There have been reports since the start of the year that IS fighters have fled Syria into western Ninewa.
Tal Afar is nearby Sinjar, and is suffering from a security dilemma. There are five different security groups in the center of the district. People are concerned of new IS attacks. On the positive side reconciliation talks are going on in the town, and that is helping with displaced people coming home. That’s not true in outer areas of the district however. In the Zumar and Ayadiya subdistricts for example there is widespread mistrust. There are also villages where there are movement restrictions because the residents are considered IS sympathizers. Many rural areas in liberated areas have a plethora of security forces. There are the police, the army, and various Hashd groups. Many times they are in competition with each other, which leads to tensions and rivalries.
Baiji and Tuz Kharmato are both in eastern Salahaddin with the former in the north and the latter in the south. Baiji is seeing a steady number of returns to the town center. There is rebuilding going on, schools and health centers are open, but IEDs are still a problem. Kidnappings, IS attacks and clashes between the different security forces are all concerns. Three-quarters of Baiji have movement restrictions because the locals are considered IS supporters. The Tuz Kharmato district which includes the town along with Suleiman Beq and Amerli has movement restrictions imposed across the whole area by the Iraqi forces. In Amerli there are fears of growing tensions amongst the Iraqi forces as they compete for control. There is no reconciliation going on, and land disputes and squatting are issues in half the areas.
The survey provides some important insights into the liberated areas. There is still widespread destruction and a lack of services, which are major deterrents to displaced people going home. Too few regions have rebuilding going on as the central government has no program. Leftover IEDs are another issue. Security is also a concern, but it is not always about the Islamic State. Too many places have competing security forces or tribal rivalries, which is leading to tensions as they vie for control. Checkpoints for example are a lucrative business where people are extorted for money. There are also many populations that can’t freely move because they are considered IS. They also fear revenge attacks. Again, Baghdad’s lack of concern means that each district has been largely left to its own devices. That means whichever armed groups or tribes are there can do what they want. Overall, this is creating a very complicated environment where security, housing, and livelihoods are vastly different across central and northern Iraq with no signs of a solution anytime soon.
DTM The UN Migration Agency, Returns Working Group, Social Inquiry “Return Index, Findings Round two – Iraq January 2019,” 2/20/19