Today is the 39th anniversary of the al-Badri family’s displacement. Mohammed al-Badri and his family were forced to move from an agricultural area on the border of Iran to Sadr city, a low-income district inside Baghdad, decades ago due to the war between Iraq and neighbouring Iran, which started in 1980.
The al-Badris long ago gave up on the idea of returning to their former home. Their village was destroyed by fighting and to this day, lacks basic services like water and power supply.
My children have never even seen the area they were born in. They have no connection to the place.
The area was once a paradise, al-Badri says, but now it is a barren desert. “My children have never even seen the area they were born in,” he told NIQASH. “They have no connection to the place. And even if we did return, what would we do there?”
Another reason for al-Badri’s reluctance to return home after all this time is the expense.
Recently the Iraqi government made a number of decisions on how to compensate locals who had been displaced, or had their property destroyed, during the security crisis started by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. The authorities resolved to pay compensation to Iraqis displaced by fighting, by military operations or by terrorism between 2014 and 2017.
But none of these resolutions and new rules have been applied to those displaced by the Iran-Iraq war, started by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. This is because those displaced by that conflict are not explicitly mentioned in the new rules as well as the difficulties faced by anyone wanting to claim funding. For example, they need to be able to bring official documents proving they have been displaced but often these either didn’t exist or have long been lost.
Local lawyer Saad al-Azzawi said that these displaced Iraqis are being neglected because for one thing, many of them are not actively seeking compensation. Saddam Hussein had alternative ways of compensating the displaced that didn’t involve official applications: He attempted to rebuild damaged areas or gave special privileges to groups who had been displaced.
Many of those who fled Iraq also went to Iran and often stayed there – this is another reason for the neglect of this file.
Additionally many of the current efforts target different provinces than the ones affected by the Iraq-Iran conflict.
The latter saw the border provinces become battlefields with larges areas inside Basra, southern Maysan, Wasit and central Diyala bearing the brunt. Later on the Iraqi Kurdish provinces of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah were also impacted.
As people gradually left these areas to escape the fighting and bombs, their migration caused demographic change that is still being felt today. For instance, a large number of displaced people settled on the outskirts of Baghdad in places like Sadr City.
The sectarian make up of these new communities have been used to the advantage of some Iraqi political parties or movements. During the country’s sectarian crisis between 2005 and 2007, during which Sunni Muslims targeted Shiite Muslims and vice versa, these communities were particularly important – especially because of the number of Shiite Muslims who had settled in Baghdad.
Additionally because the border areas from which people fled remain relatively empty, they also have less political and demographic clout. Less of the state purse is dedicated to them and other areas, with larger populations, more voters and therefore more powerful politicians, can better lobby for the funds.