The industrial district in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, is the second largest industrial district in Iraq; the largest is in Najaf. It is an important area for locals as it is the place where more than half of the city’s population earn their livelihoods.
However like much of the city of Fallujah itself, the industrial zone was also affected by the presence of the extremist group known as the Islamic State, who controlled the mostly-Sunni Muslim populated city for months. Locals have started to return to Fallujah but life there is still far from easy and damage is widespread.
There’s no real value in paying the government money to prevent our customers from entering and exiting the area.
Recently though the local government announced that the industrial zone would re-open. For more than a month now, owners of some of the larger buildings and factories in the industrial zone have been meeting to organise their return to this area and to work out who may return to work here, and how.
Local officials added to this by saying that a large security barrier would be built around the whole of the industrial area. And, they added, the cost of building the fence should be borne by local businesses and factories. Every businessperson who intends to return to their work in the industrial zone must contribute between IQD100,000 (US$84) and IQD300,000 (US$252).
“When the government announced that they would re-open the industrial district we were told we should close our temporary premises and move back,” says Ahmad al-Issawi, 50, a local blacksmith who had opened some temporary premises in the central city while things were getting back to normal. “But since then we have waited more than two months for the security clearances – I gathered documents and other proof that I owned the workshop - and now we have been told we also have to pay for this security fence. I thought this was going to be an easy process. But I’m still waiting”
“There’s no real value in paying the government money to prevent our customers from entering and exiting the area,” says Mazen Aboud, a 35-year-old mechanic. His workshop was completely destroyed in the fighting and he now drives around the city making appointments with clients on his phone. Then he takes his tools to them and works for on their cars, on the spot; he no longer needs a workshop, especially not one behind a fence. “And we know that won’t be all we are asked to pay for. We are bound to be asked for money to clean out improvised explosive devices and to clean the area as well as to pay for other, more ordinary municipal services.”
Everyone in Fallujah knows that the industrial zone was used by the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group to manufacture explosives and other weapons.
And we don’t deny that, Aboud argues. “But we are just ordinary tradesmen. We earned a decent living and we had nothing to do with the terrorists.”
Many locals say that despite the officials’ promises there has been very little change in the industrial zone. There are still decomposing corpses here, debris from the fighting and unexploded munitions. Officials had also said power would be restored by generators but these have not appeared either.
Not everyone is upset though. Majid al-Akashi, 40, says he is pleased the industrial zone will re-open. “The zone is an important area and provides services not just to Fallujah but also to surrounding towns and areas. To re-open this area is a step in the right direction, to bringing life back to Fallujah,” al-Akashi noted. “We should all take pride in this.”
It’s been difficult to re-open the industrial zone, Fallujah’s mayor Issa Saer al-Assawi, admitted to NIQASH. “But the security forces and local administrators hope to finalise permissions in the next few days,” al-Assawi said. “Additionally the plan to secure the industrial zone with a security fence and berm has also been finalized.”
“The government should not make local people pay these expenses as they only add to our burden,” argues blacksmith al-Issawi. “If we saw that the money was really going to reconstruction, we would not mind. But we’re not seeing any real change in this area. That’s why I have decided not to return here to work,” he concluded. “I will re-open my workshop – but it will not be here.”