Paris – After the United States of America’s invasion on Iraq in 2003, many believed the country’s dissipation of civil society and escalation of separatist conflict was the result of Paul Bremer’s incompetent leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority. This eventually saw the deconstruction of Iraq which allowed Al-Qaeda to take power in an autocratic yet secular state of the Middle East. America’s alleged alliance with Sunni tribes became instrumental in the defeat of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, however the USA’s deceit after victory and unwillingness or inability to fulfill its commitments to its Sunni allies planted the seeds of greater discrimination against the Sunnis. The belief amongst this religious minority was that nothing would come from collaborating with the west and other groupings in Iraq. This lead to the eventual rise of a more radical and formidable player in the region; ISIS.
Fast forward to 2017, another American president boldly declares victory in Iraq, President Donald Trump’s claimed victory over ISIS was as hollow as Bush’s victory over Saddam fourteen years before. Millions of Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes leaving them internally displaced throughout various cities and camps in the northern and western areas of the country. Extended conflict has left neighbourhoods and infrastructure destroyed and separatist violence has seen specific ethnic and religious groups targeted and denied the right to return to their communities, receive security protection or the assistance of basic services.
Whilst displacement figures have dropped the lowest since 2014, the Migration and Displacement Ministry in Iraq have declared at least 1.2 million people to be displaced throughout the country, with 500,000 individuals in displacement camps and 700,000 displaced throughout several cities. Since 2014, across Iraq, nearly four million people have returned to their original residences, however many have been left vulnerable after seeking protection in religious buildings, schools and other abandoned buildings.
The formation of independently managed militias like the Popular Mobilization Forces is of growing concern as there have been multiple reports of militias destroying and coercing people out of their homes and prohibiting them the right to return based on their religious values and ethnic identities. International law states that all military personnel must adhere to the just treatment of civilians, including internally displaced persons. The implementation of discriminatory policies designed to hinder the return of individuals belonging to specific groups based on their ethnic and religious identities is a grave breach of national and international law.
Sectarian conflict, especially amongst internally displaced persons connected to different groups is worsening as individuals are being forced to leave their communities and are humiliated for their religious or cultural identities. Iraq’s centuries old multi ethnic and religiously diverse society is now tainted by the devastation that was the IS era. Minority groups, including Christians, Yazidis, Sunnis and individuals with family ties to the Islamic State are extremely vulnerable as many of the country’s best have been forced to leave, leaving a completely depleted and annihilated country.
Minority religious groups such as Christians are almost non-existent due to their churches, monasteries and homes being eradicated and thousands of families have fled with no intent to return. The delicate position of Christianity is extremely precarious as many extremist groups declared that the killing of Christians assisted in the expansion of Islam. Bush’s bold call for a crusade in 2001 also targeted Christians in the region as would be collaborators of the west, though unfounded this erroneous belief has cost Iraq’s Christians dearly.
For Christians living in Iraq, their ability to thrive in a Muslim-dominant country appears to be slim and many have said that this ancient religion may soon be facing its end.
Many Yazidi victims have returned to their homes, however they are suffering gravely as thousands have no access to clean water, electricity, schools or hospitals. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis are living in displacement camps across Northern Iraq and with poor living conditions and the trauma of the ethnic cleansing; displacement camps have seen a sharp increase in suicide rates amongst Yazidi people, making Iraq a country with the highest rate of suicide in the MENA region.
Sunni Arab Individuals who have been internally displaced are subjected to unjustified discrimination that restricts their ability and freedom to move to secure locations. Many have been threatened or faced with violence in cities like Baghdad where Sunnis are regarded as politically untrustworthy by security forces. Many Sunnis found their homes set on fire, they were met with violent anti-Sunni slogans on a daily basis which caused thousands to leave Baghdad to find protection in the Kurdistan region, Erbil. The fate of Sunni Islam is in high-speed decline and drastic repression as the stigma that surrounds the religion is due to accusations of its ‘collective’ widespread ruling of terror.
With many groups struggling to get back to their communities, amongst many displaced Iraqis, there is growing controversy surrounding individuals with tribal connections and perceived allegiances to the Islamic State as many are subjected to extreme exploitation like physical and sexual abuse. Thousands living in displacement camps around the country are denied the right to secure an ID card which enables access to basic services and the ability to move around the country. They are experiencing devastating poverty and the likelihood of returning home is almost impossible. Multiple reports from women have indicated they have encountered sexual violence from security services, soldiers and government militants because of their family relationship or loose ties to the extremist group.
The longer 1.2 million people continue to be displaced and communities fail to co-exist, the ability for Iraq to rebuild is uncertain. The Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International have said in their Iraq Displacement Crisis report that the displacement crisis has caused consequential overcrowding in other cities and towns. This has seen tension build between internally displaced persons and host communities as they “compete for scarce resources and livelihoods, but tensions are also exacerbated by inter-religious, ethnic and tribal conflicts.”
This propagation of conflict has created a state where the Iraqi government and tribes are unable to operate cohesively as they claim authority over their territories inhumanely. It is imperative that all parties function systematically or Iraq risk the resurgence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS where even more internally displaced persons will be caught in the cross-fires. Government forces and other related militias must be held accountable in a court of law for the displacement of millions of people, and in the future must adhere to national and international law. Reconciliation strategies are essential in regaining a stable rule of law that fosters appropriate security, infrastructure recovery and compensation and humanitarian assistance for civilians and displaced persons wanting to return to their homes safely where they can rebuild and reintegrate their communities.