ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – On Monday, a large number of displaced Arab families residing in the Kurdistan Region for the past three years have returned to their liberated towns in areas surrounding Mosul.
Zummar and Makhmour are two ethnically mixed cities that fell under the control of the Islamic State (IS) in mid-2014. While Peshmerga forces successfully drove IS out of the towns at the start of 2015, the areas remained unstable and insecure due to their proximity to the front lines. With the fall of IS in Mosul in July, residents are slowly making their way back to nearby regions.
Recently, President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani asked security forces in those areas to allow displaced families who had found refuge in the Kurdistan Region to return to their homes once a complete sweep and the clearance of leftover explosives in the region was concluded.
On Sunday, the first wave of families, mostly Arabs, returned to Zummar. In a celebratory ceremony, the Mayor of Zummar, Ahmed Jaafar, and Peshmerga forces welcomed the returnees.
“It is an ongoing process. As a first step, 384 families returned to Zummar today, to the villages of Barzanke, Ain Zallah, Kharabat Tibin, Saudiya, and Cairo,” Jaafar told Kurdistan 24, announcing water and electricity among many other public services will soon resume.
“I’m resident of Saudiya village. I am delighted to return home after several years. We salute the Peshmerga who sacrificed their lives to free our land. We wouldn’t be here now if it were not for the Peshmerga and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” one of the Arab villagers told Kurdistan 24.
“President Barzani brought Kurdistan's people [Peshmerga] to liberate our areas,” said another elderly Arab citizen during a live interview in Zummar. “The Kurdistan Region gracefully received us when Da’esh [IS] attacked the area, and now they helped us return with the same respect. We want our areas to be a part of the Kurdistan Region and participate in the referendum.”
Following the jihadist group's attack on Zummar, a number of villagers and residents in the area assisted IS in gaining control larger swaths of territory. Once the Peshmerga defeated IS in the city, local IS members along with their families fled to Mosul, according to a Peshmerga Commander in Zummar.
Makhmour, another town located in the south of Erbil and south of Mosul, saw dozens of Arab families return to the area on Sunday, some of which were waving the Kurdistan flag.
“Today, 54 families moved back to their homes in Makhmour, and more will follow,” Makhmour Mayor Rizgar Ismael told Kurdistan 24. “Insecurity in the area was one of the reasons people have not been able to return home over the past few years.”
The families who returned are mostly from the Alliyawa village. In an interview, many of them expressed their happiness, finally returning to their village and permanent homes.
Ahmed Salim is one of the Arab residents who returned home wearing a traditional Kurdish outfit and sporting a Kurdistan flag pin on his chest.
“Today is Eid for all of us,” Salim said. “We thank the people of the Kurdistan Region for receiving us and hosting us for the past years after Da’esh attacked Makhmour. The Peshmerga protected us and liberated our areas from the jihadist group.”
Salim was asked about his Kurdish outfit, complete with a rifle and Kurdistan flag pin on his chest. “I feel proud to say that I’m an Arab citizen and support the Kurdistan Region's referendum on independence. It was the Kurdistan Region who protected us,” he said.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) scheduled a referendum for Sep. 25 to ask the people of the Region if they wish to secede from the rest of Iraq. The vote will also include residents from the disputed territories such as Shingal (Sinjar), Zummar, Makhmour, and Kirkuk.
Editing by G.H. Renaud
(Masoud Mohammed and Zardasht Hame contributed to this report)