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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Displaced Iraqis return to destruction and death ahead of elections

Civilians making the journey home face the prospect of desolation, reprisals or, even worse, death

Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq. Picture taken January 3, 2018. Khalid Al Mousily / Reuters / January 3, 2018.
Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq. Picture taken January 3, 2018. Khalid Al Mousily / Reuters / January 3, 2018.

Displaced Iraqis making the journey home to the country’s war-weary western provinces face extreme insecurity and life-threatening conditions as authorities call for their return ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

Managing more than two million Iraqis who have been displaced in the war between Iraqi forces and ISIS is one of Baghdad’s most daunting tasks after it declared victory against the extremists in December.

Those who have made the return to their homes in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, ahead of next month's parliamentary elections, are struggling to rebuild their lives, Jaber Al Jaberi, an Iraqi lawmaker representing Anbar, told The National

“Approximately 70-75 per cent of the displaces have now returned back home (to Anbar) but most people don’t want to go back they would rather stay in the camps,” Mr Jaberi said.

“The electricity is very weak, the sewage system is crumbling, the only hospital in Ramadi is actually out of service, it’s a catastrophe,” he said.

Many face the prospect of desolation, reprisals upon returning to their local areas, and the risk of death from booby-traps or acts of vigilantism.

“Citizens are seeking compensation from the government to rebuild their damaged homes, but the government is failing to provide adequate funds to help them,” Mr Al Jaberi said.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, Iraqi authorities forced nearly 9,000 people from the displacement camps back to their homes in Anbar between November and December 2017.

Landmines, cluster munitions and improvised explosive devices litter the streets of war-torn cities and provinces across the country.

Although Baghdad’s central government has announced the defeat of ISIS, Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi admitted that the country is still engaged in a fight against the insurgent's sleeper cells.

On Tuesday, Iraqi security forces killed seven insurgents in the Anbar desert, the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA) reported.

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Iraqi and American security officials have repeatedly warned that extremists remain in pockets along the porous border with Syria and in parts of the Iraqi desert.

“Retaken areas are not fully cleared of explosive hazards, and unstable infrastructures heavily damaged from ground fighting and airstrikes present safety concerns,” the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Iraq said in a statement last week.

Roads and neighbourhood closures, checkpoints, curfews, and military attacks are creating serious security challenges for displaced, resident and returning populations, UNHCR reported.

Nearly 46,000 Internally Displaced Persons are currently situated in western Anbar. A total of 2.2 million people remain displaced inside the whole of Iraq.

Iraqi authorities are also trying hundreds of men and women accused of having links to ISIS. On Tuesday, the Justice Ministry announced the sentencing of a French woman to life in prison. Djamila Boutoutaou, a 29-year-old of Algerian descent, told a Baghdad court that she had left France to be with her husband, a rapper.

The female suspect said she was forced by her husband to join the extremist group and live inside the caliphate that the group announced would straddle the Iraqi-Syrian border from July 2014 onwards.

Iraq’s anti-terrorism law empowers courts to convict people who are believed to have helped ISIS even if they are not accused of violence.

On Monday, Iraq executed 13 people, including 11 convicted of "terrorism". They include individuals accused of car bombings, killing security forces and kidnappings.

In January, an Iraqi court condemned an unnamed German woman to death by hanging after finding her guilty of ISIS membership. She was convicted of providing logistical support to the group and participating in attacks against Iraqi soldiers.