Life returns to Anbar slowly: Children in Fallujah returning to school in December 2016. Source: Getty (photo: صباح عرار : جيتي)
First there was the good news. The provincial government in Anbar province, which has seen much fighting, destruction and death during the security crisis caused by the extremist Islamic State group, announced that the country’s Real Estate Bank had allocated IQD44 billion (around US$36 million) for loans for local reconstruction. The bank, which is state-owned and was set up to facilitate housing projects in the country, would offer the money to ordinary citizens in the area who had suffered damages due to military actions in the form of interest-free loans.
Then came the bad news: The loans, ranging from between IQD30 million to IQD50 million (around US$42,000), were difficult to obtain. According to locals, the procedure involved and the conditions for acceptance are so onerous as to be almost impossible. Different sums are given for applicants who live in different parts of the province, whether the centre or districts. Additionally, the interest-free loans are only available to those who can prove officially that they owned property.
Um Ahmad is living in the rubble of what was once her home. Only a single room remains habitable – it still has a ceiling.
It is this that causes a lot of problems in Anbar.
Ahmad al-Jumaili, a 44-year-old from the Shuhada area, south of Fallujah, says his hopes were raised by the news. But he quickly realized he didn’t qualify for a loan because he built his house on agricultural property, with the agreement of the owner of the land. It’s a form of subdivision that became popular in the province as prices in inner cities rose and shanty towns started to be built. Land owners saw the potential to divide their agricultural land and offer it to families who wanted to build on the outskirts of the cities. It’s a common but often not well-documented practice.
“A lot of families here built homes with a similar sort of agreement, hoping that maybe one day they could buy the land,” al-Jumaili told NIQASH. “That means that today we have no right to compensation or to apply for these loans because we do not have the actual property titles.”
The war didn’t spare anyone but in this situation, they are considered “second class citizens,” al-Jumaili complains.
“Most of the families here don’t have any kind of contract,” adds Abdul Majid al-Aboud, 53, who lives in the Jazeera area, north of Ramadi, who says he was also hopeful at first but soon disappointed. “They either live in the shanty towns or they were sharing an apartment. That is actually the majority of people here who had property or housing destroyed. They have no options for financial compensation now.”
The road into Ramadi during recent fighting.
“When we heard that we were not covered by these loans we realized that the initiative is only to help the wealthy, those who are close to the government and a handful of others,” al-Aboud argues. “These do not represent the majority who need help, who are poor and needy and who were also the first to return to the cities and contribute to the life here.”
“These loans are not really suitable for low-income earners either,” adds Mahdi al-Hamadani, 44, a bank employee living in Fallujah. Successful applicants have to pay back around IQD417,000 (around US$350) a month for ten years, which is almost impossible for lower-income Iraqis to do, even if the loans are interest free.
Basically this doesn’t help anyone, al-Hamadani says.
The provincial government is well aware that local people need compensation for the damages incurred, a member of the provincial council, Ibtisam Mohammed Darb, told NIQASH. “Although we don’t have the funds to start compensating everyone, we have been able to record damages, assess problems and then categorize them, in order to request the needed money,” Darb explains.
The fact that the provincial council got the Real Estate Bank to agree to the loans is just a first step, she insists. “We are still working to establish a mechanism that guarantees that everyone who has been impacted can benefit from these loans.”
Unfortunately, her words are not much comfort to Um Ahmad, a local woman whose son died in fighting in Anbar.
At the moment Um Ahmad – in English, the mother of Ahmad – is living in the rubble of what was once her home. Only a single room remains habitable – it still has a ceiling. “Most of the affected people here are poor. And we need help because we are victims of this conflict, not part of those who destroyed everything.”
The 50-year-old widow says she would rather live in the ruins of her house, than receive a loan she cannot pay back. “If there was a loan I could afford I would go to the bank directly and get it,” she insists. “But I am not interested in this government initiative, which just has the smell of election propaganda.”