Five years after ISIS pushed from disputed Iraqi area, residents still can't return

The people of Jalawla and Saadia sub-districts in the Diyala governorate spent five years in displacement camps and continue living in camps unable to return to their homes.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Thousands of families from the Jalawla and Saadia sub-districts of Iraq's Diyala province who were displaced by the Islamic State have spent the past five years in displacement camps and continue to be unwilling or unable to return to their homes.

The two areas, in the Khanaqin district, were liberated from the Islamic State's brutal rule in November 2014, but residents have still not returned.

“Our house has been demolished. We are not sure if it was by ISIS or other armed groups, but we received no compensation and cannot go back,” said Yousef Mohammed, a displaced person there now living in Alwan Camp. 

The main obstacles preventing the people from going back, according to many of them, are lack of job opportunities, tribal disputes, difficulty receiving government security clearances that are often arbitrarily issued, and fear for their safety because of common insurgent attacks in villages carried out by the Islamic State and other unknown armed groups.

In the past five days, the Islamic State conducted eight attacks on the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces around Khanaqin, killing three Peshmerga fighters, three Iraqi police officers, and eight other Iraqi forces. They also injured at least 25.

Read More: ISIS attack kills 3 Peshmerga forces in disputed Iraqi town

Officials from the Kurdistan Region have repeatedly warned that Islamic State militants have been exploiting the security vacuum created by a lack of cooperation between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in and around the disputed areas. Regarding the recent attacks, a Peshmerga fighter told Kurdistan 24, “They are active and control the villages in the void during the night time.”    

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD), out of a total of 40,000 families displaced from the area in 2014, some 9,000 families from Jalawla, Saadia, and Sharaban sub-districts are still living in Alwan and two other displacement camps.    

Both Jalawla and Saadia are ethnically diverse areas, consisting of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen. Jalawla, also known as Gulala in Kurdish, and Saadia are part of Iraq's territories disputed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Federal Government of Iraq.

Baghdad declared an official military victory against the Islamic State in late 2017, but the group continues to launch insurgent attacks, ambushes, and kidnappings across much of the country.

Editing by John J. Catherine