Rebuilding Iraq: Complexities and Challenges
Many people currently living in Iraq continue to face various socio-political, socio-economic, and psychological challenges. This situation occurs despite the fact that the broader Iraqi populace has hoped that the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIL) would generate prosperity.
Notably, members of tribes that participated in the battle against ISIL militants face harsh realities in the aftermath of the conflict. Many Iraqi tribesmen have returned home to their villages and towns, only to find such areas levelled, or else critically damaged, due to the boundless, full-fledged nature of the war perpetrated by ISIL.
As there were no areas designated untouchable in the battles that took place, civilians and the areas which they inhabited were often caught in the crossfire. Notably, these “urban battlefields” were also home to the families of ISIL fighters, for the duration of the conflict.
While beginning to rebuild their former homes in territories nearby Mosul, Falluja, Mideine, and Ramadi, the tribesmen and civilians living in these areas have been faced with a difficult political question: what should happen to the children, wives, and relatives of ISIL fighters?
According to a former tribal fighter, any incorporation of such individuals into society is not feasible. He explained that “the timing is bad” and that it “would risk provoking unrest and a return to bloodshed in the streets.” Such a view is common amongst former combatants and civilians alike, who are in no hurry to welcome affiliates of ISIL into their communities.
Indeed, wives of ISIL fighters have been tried in Iraqi courts and sentenced to death, even as the conflict seemingly de-escalates. Relatives of ISIL fighters that have avoided punishment for their relations with the combatants have been moved into camps. Both examples are equally illustrative of the pervading view that such individuals should not be welcomed back into Iraqi society.
In addition to this particularly politicized issue, Iraqi civilians are faced with pressing economic concerns. According to the Wall Street Journal, an assessment conducted by the World Bank and the Iraqi government relayed that defeating ISIS resulted in $45.7 billion infrastructural damage throughout Iraq. This includes “houses, power plants, schools, and other civilian infrastructure.”
Such destruction has inevitably led to the displacement of large swaths of the populace. Many have been forced to live in displacement camps. According to the International Organization for Migration, 2.3 million Iraqis remain displaced as of 28 February. Such a dramatic shift in living situation can ostensibly harm the ability of such Iraqis to be economically self-sufficient. Furthermore, prolonged displacement can be a sign that the concept of “home” has changed in meaning for some Iraqis.
A joint report created by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, and International Rescue Committee also illustrates this sentiment. The report features a case study conducted in displacement camps in Anbar, Iraq, which showed that 84 percent of those polled felt safer in the camps than in their former villages or towns.
Equally concerning, 15 percent of the individuals from the camps who attempted to return home indicated that their homes were damaged at least partially, while 19 percent relayed that their homes were damaged heavily. 25 percent of those polled indicated that their homes were completely destroyed.
The report additionally declares that 69 percent of the displaced peoples living in camps had “no livelihood opportunities” back home. Thus, many Iraqis have been rendered incapable of fully re-entering society, due to emotional trauma and/or practical concerns. Moreover, the challenges associated with returning home as described above are compounded by other factors.
These factors include, but are not limited to, remnants of the war, such as IEDs and other explosive devices, the potential for the resurgence of ISIL, and fear of being punished for perceived ties to ISIL.
While the challenges associated with the inability to sustain shelter and a livelihood often prevent prospective returnees from achieving stability in the long-run, the security challenges described above present short-term threats to survival that disallow any consideration of long-term plans in the first place.
Both immediate insecurity and negative perceptions about the potential for reintegration into society in the long-run prevent even the most capable amongst the Iraqi people from returning to some sense of normalcy. Therefore, a failure to resolve these pressing issues will seriously impede any progression toward a more stable, unified society, as these problems often compound one another and intensify societal breakdown. As such, creating a safe, sustainable future in Iraq requires that leaders properly identify humane, lasting solutions to these issues.