Thursday, December 6, 2018

Permanently Displaced In Iraq’s Babil Province

(Google Maps)

A recent report highlighted the fact that Babil province is facing a permanent displacement problem. Since January 2016 the number of displaced hardly dropped in the province, and actually increased at the start of 2018. The cause of this issue was the Hashd clearing out Jurf al-Sakhr and Musayib of their residents and the provincial government banning anyone from returning because the two districts were along the main route for people to travel from Baghdad and points north to the shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf.

(IOM)
The chart included in the report “Reasons To Remain: Categorizing Protracted Displacement In Iraq” showed that over 3,000 families were currently displaced in Babil and that figure had hardly changed over the last three years. The chart started in the summer of 2014 when the Islamic State first began seizing territory in Iraq. At that point there was no displacement issue. By the end of 2014 just over 500 families had fled their homes and then there was a sudden jump to 2,500 families by January 2015, peaking at approximately 3,500 families by the winter of 2015. Then there was a drop down to 2,000-2,5000 families from January 2016 to January 2018 before there was another surge to roughly 3,500 families by the summer of 2018. The International Organization for Migration counted 35,232 displaced (IDPs) in Babil registered with the government by October 2018.

Why has the number of displaced basically flatlined for the last several years and not gone down like other provinces in Iraq? That’s because the security forces and authorities are not allowing anyone back. First, almost all of these IDP families came from the northeast, specifically Jurf al-Sakhr, which was a major battlefield and Musayib just to the south. After 12 unsuccessful security operations Jurf al-Sakhr was finally freed in October 2014. Many people fled the fighting, but afterward the Hashd also forced people out and destroyed homes in the process. Initially, it was said that the district was too dangerous to return to because of thousands of IEDs left behind. It was predicted that it would take up to six months to remove all of explosives. That didn’t stop the Hashd turning Jurf al-Sakhr into a military base however, and banning people from coming back. The provincial council later barred all people from returning in December 2014. A year and a half later in 2016 local politicians were accusing the residents of being Islamic State sympathizers as the reason why no one was allowed back. In the summer of 2017, pro-Iran Hashd groups were accused of kidnapping, detaining and threatening people in Musayib and forcing them out. Leaflets were posted telling people they had to leave the area or be killed. The cause of these policies is that Jurf al-Sakhr and Musayib are along the highway from northern and central Iraq south towards Najaf and Karbala. This made it a major pilgrimage route, which the Hashd and government had to secure. The threats in Musayib for example, happened just before the Ashura ceremony in September where people headed to the shrine in Karbala. Making those pilgrims safe came at the expense of emptying two entire districts of people and making them permanently displaced.

The war against the Islamic State came at a heavy price to Iraq. Unfortunately there are places like Jurf al-Sakhr and Musayib that were permanently affected. Jurf al-Sakhr is a ghost town. There are several other areas that have faced the same fate. The Sunnis there were considered such a threat that they were completely up ended, and not allowed back to their homes. This harkens back to the civil war period when there was a massive demographics change in Baghdad and the surrounding areas. After that conflict concluded over one million people were permanently displaced, it looks like the same thing will happen this time as well.

SOURCES

International Organization for Migration, “Displacement Tracking Matrix, DTM Round 106,” October 2018

International Organization for Migration, Returns Working Group, Social Inquiry, November 2018



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