Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Difficult Situations In Postwar Areas Of Iraq

As of March 2019 4,188,780 displaced (IDPs) Iraqis had returned home. That is a priority of the government, but it has no rebuilding or reconciliation policy to help these people. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) did a survey of the areas people are going back to. It surveyed 1,547 locations across eight provinces in February 2019. The situation in home areas is important because the more difficulties there the less likely IDPs are to go back.

Almost all of the displaced in Anbar have gone back largely because its urban centers were some of the first liberated from the Islamic State, but there are areas in the west and east of the governorate that are considered problematic. These are Rumana and Qaim in the Qaim district by the Syrian border, Rutba in the southwest by Jordan, and Saqlawiya and Garma in the Fallujah district in the east. All have housing destruction, but rebuilding is going on. There is a lack of jobs in all the areas except Saqlawiya. In Rumana and Saqlawiya more than 80% of the farms and small businesses have been slow to re-open limiting livelihoods and commerce. Electricity and water are in short supply. In the Qaim district there are fears of IS and revenge attacks, and concerns about clashes between the various security forces that now control the area. Some families have been blocked from returning to all these areas. Western Anbar was the last part of the province to be freed from the insurgents so it should be expected that the Qaim and Rutba areas have limited reconstruction. IS has also been sending in fighters from neighboring Syria into the area raising fears that the insurgency will make a comeback. At the same time, the Syrian border was seen as a priority by pro-Iran Hashd groups to control not only to counter IS, but to have access to Syria where many Hashd are fighting. The border therefore is under many different Hashd units that often compete with each other.

Baghdad is rarely considered a war zone, but IS was very active in the outer towns. Latifiya in the south and Nasir Wal Salam in the Abu Ghraib district in the west have the worst conditions for returnees in the province. In Nasir Wal Salam there are few services and jobs and nearly half the houses have been destroyed and little rebuilding is going on. Local farms and business are largely closed along with most schools and health centers. In Latifiya less than half the houses were destroyed and reconstruction is going on. Like Nasir Wal Salam there is little business or agricultural activity and services are poor. Families have been blocked from returning to both, and there is a need for reconciliation. These were traditional bases for IS, which was why they became conflict zones. The situation is complicated by the fact that IS is trying to make a return to these same places which makes reconstruction difficult.

The worst areas in Diyala are Muqtadiya in the center, and Jalawla and Sadiya in the northeast. In Muqtadiya there is little property damage and rebuilding is ongoing, but there are few jobs because few businesses have re-opened. IDPs said they fear the different security forces that now control the district, IS attacks, unexploded bombs, and tribal disputes. In Jalawla and Sadiya less than half the returnees could find a job. There are high levels of housing destruction, but only rebuilding going on in Jalawla. The insurgency is also a concern as it has consistently been attacking the area for months now. Muqtadiya is on the Sunni-Shiite fault line in the province with many Sunni residents and mostly Shiite security forces. Sadiya and Jalawla have been disputed between the central and Kurdish governments. The former is split between the Badr Organization and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, while Sadiya is completely under control of pro-Iran Hashd groups. The different administrations and forces has meant returning services and fixing homes has been difficult. There is also not enough security forces and different chains of command operating, which has given space for IS to return with a vengeance with almost weekly attacks in the northeast.

Southern Kirkuk’s Hawija is the hotspot in the province. In Riyad and Abbasi farming has not recovered meaning it’s hard to find work, there is only housing rebuilding going on in half the areas, and there is little access to schools and health care. Families are also blocked from returning, and people are worried about the various security forces and IS attacks. Hawija was one of the last areas of the country freed from the insurgents. They largely withdrew rather than fight so that they could quickly rebuild. The area is under various elements of the Iraqi forces and Hashd, which often compete with each other, and view much of the population as standing with IS. Because there is still a relatively high level of violence there rebuilding has been slow.

Western and southern Ninewa are facing many of the same problems as the other provinces. Sinjar, Tal Afar, and Baaj areas in the west and the Hamam al-Alil district south of Mosul reported the most issues. Farming has not recovered in Sinjar and few businesses are open making it hard for people to find jobs. There is a lack of services. More than 50% the houses were destroyed and rebuilding is only going on in half the district. That has led to widespread squatting. There is a severe need for reconciliation between Yazidis and Arabs with the former blaming the latter for supporting IS. Arabs on the other hand are afraid of revenge attacks. There is tension between the different security forces in the area along with IS attacks. In Tal Afar none of the housing is being rebuilt. There are also tensions between the Shiite and Sunni Turkmen with the latter believed to have IS sympathies. That has led families being blocked from returning. Baaj has little reconstruction going on and suffers from the worst job situation with 92% of returnees in Baaj and 74% in Hatra saying there were no employment opportunities. Families are blocked from returning to the district and there are fears of IS attacks. Finally in Hamam al-Alil district property is being repaired in the town of the same name, but none in Shura. Ninewa is a very complicated province. Many rural areas were believed to have backed IS leading many to be banned from returning. The Islamists also split communities like in Tal Afar and Sinjar along ethnosectarian lines. IS is still active in the governorate as well. Many rural areas were some of the last liberated in Iraq, which means they have had little time to recover.

Along with Ninewa, Salahaddin had the most troubled areas. Yathrib, Tuz Kharmato, Baiji, Samarra, Shirqat, and Tirkit which cover the north, center, south and eastern sections of the province all had problems with jobs, reconciliation, rebuilding, and economic recovery. In 55% of the areas for instance there was no peace making going on, and 50% of returnees in Samara and Shirqat reported that they could find no jobs. Like Ninewa, many people in the rural areas of the province were considered IS supporters and have been shunned as a result. The Salahaddin province government for instance banned all IS families from returning to their homes although that has not been systematically applied. Tuz Kharmato also suffered from Arab-Kurdish disputes for power during the war. Since many of these districts are rural they were already neglected by the government and continue to be so after the war.

The IOM paints a complicated picture of post-conflict Iraq. There is a lack of rebuilding and reconciliation going on in many areas, which makes it hard for people to put their lives back together. There is a whole group of people that also cannot return at all because they are believed to be IS. That group is still active and rebuilding in these same areas adding more difficulties. The fact that Baghdad has no strategy for these provinces is the biggest issue. Even its security plan hasn’t worked to stop IS’s rebirth. That will mean these areas will be destroyed and divided for the foreseeable future. 


International Organization for Migration, “Return Index, Findings Round Three – Iraq,” March 2019

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