Displaced in Karbala queue for aid. (photo: وزارة الهجرة والمهجرين )
Not everyone was celebrating the fact that the extremist group known as the Islamic State had been pushed out of Mosul. Dhu al-Fiqr Jassem al-Mosuli was one of those Iraqis. Al-Mosuli is in his 60s, father to seven children, and he and his family left their home on the western side of the northern city three years ago when the Islamic State, or IS, group took control of the metropolis. Since July 2014, he and his married son and grandchildren have been living in one of the Shiite Muslim mosques on the road between Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq.
Of course, al-Mosuli remembers his former home and friends with fondness. But the thought of having to return to Mosul also fills him with fear.
Living and working in Mosul is no longer possible. Why would I return?
“Despite all of the problems that come with being displaced – housing and education for my sons and grandson - I prefer to stay here because I am scared of further sectarian violence,” the older man says, with his grandchildren playing noisily nearby, trying to attract his attention.
Al-Mosuli still feels angry and sad about the loss of his cousins and their families. Sixteen of them disappeared after the IS group took control of the city. “Most likely they were killed by members of the IS group for some reason or another,” al-Mosuli says. “I am not ready to return to something like that.”
Another reason that al-Mosuli wants to stay is because of the potential job opportunities in Karbala. Many of the displaced from northern Iraq have managed to find work here and they receive decent pay.
“Living and working in Mosul is no longer possible,” al-Mosuli notes. “Why would I return?”
Al-Mosuli is not the only one who feels this way. Thousands of Shiite Muslims of the Turkmen ethnicity also fled to other parts of the country after the IS group took control of Mosul and its surrounds. Thousands of them settled in mosques, and the dormitories for pilgrims going to the mosques, on the roads between Karbala and Najaf.
Mohammed al-Allawi has different reasons for not wishing to return to Mosul. He used to live in the area known as the Ninawa Plain and he worked in the construction sector. He says he is not frightened but that he won’t be returning any time soon because his whole neighbourhood was destroyed in the fighting. There is a lack of infrastructure and, he says, it will be years before the area is back to normal.
In Karbala, al-Allawi has been able to earn a good living. However he is worried because the provincial council in Karbala decided in July 2016 that displaced Iraqis should not be able to settle in the province permanently.
After basic services are returned to the areas where there was fighting, the displaced should return home, the council believes. The council says that it is unable to provide for the displaced in the long term and has also asked that the displaced show consideration for locals, who also need jobs.
Abdul Hassan Jassem, 45, who used to live in the Barwari neighbourhood in the northern city of Tal Afar, which is still under the control of the IS group, has tears in his eyes when he talks about his old garden, his job and his neighbours in Tal Afar. He does want to return.
In fact, many of the Shiite Muslim Turkmen of Tal Afar say they do wish to return to their hometown. Like Jassem, believe they will be able to overcome any difficulties back there because they were originally in the majority in Tal Afar.
However, until that decision is made by people like al-Mosuli and Jassem, the dim lights at the religious complexes on the road between Karbala and Najaf will stay on.