Violence is down, but many Iraqis still can't go home
Most of Iraq's internally displaced people are unable to return to their houses. The lack of basic services and an inability to rebuild their war-damaged homes keeps them away.
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"I don't blame the government for everything, because we weren't 100 percent secure [several months ago], so they couldn't send an evaluation committee, but now it's secure so I will expect them to come," says Jamal Sadoun, the sheikh, who is confident he will eventually receive compensation, though perhaps not as soon as he'd like.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, the larger challenge will probably be to reinstate the services that eroded in the absence of upkeep from the government and locals.
"In Diyala, we do have a relatively high number of returnees, and, unfortunately, not only do they face destruction, but the population has also been confronted with years of drought," says Rafiq Tschannen, chief of mission for IOM-Iraq, based in Amman, Jordan.
At least two years of drought, combined with unregulated water use and pump-station problems, have caused a number of Diyala's canals to run dry. Now, many farmers, even if they're comfortable returning, are unable to work their land.
Without the canals, some farmers dug wells. But many did not dig deep enough to reach fresh water, and instead tapped into pockets of salt water. When used to irrigate fields, the salt water severely damaged topsoil and now these fields require restoration before they'll once again sustain crops.
The IDPs, however, often face few better prospects in cities, says Staff Sgt. Richard Wootress, a civil-affairs team leader attached to 2-8 Field Artillery in Diyala. "They cannot find jobs in the cities, because they don't have the kind of skills that would allow them to get jobs in an urban environment."
While the government is making an effort to reestablish central services, a member of the State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Diyala says: "It's happening more on an ad hoc basis than a coordinated and systematic approach."
"[But] now with the conflict subsiding it's really going to be incumbent on the government to provide services," says the PRT member, speaking anonymously because he is not authorized to speak with the media.
Although Diyala remains one of the most turbulent provinces in Iraq, in the last year and a half it has made tremendous strides toward peace.
"In the past Diyala was haunted by tribal issues," says Sheikh Hasan Aydun al-Temim, manager of tribal affairs for Diyala, which has Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish tribes.
But since July 2007, Mr. Temim says there have been more than 200 tribal reconciliations, which has put an end to much of the fighting. Now, US military officials say a fragmented, but still active AQI is responsible for most of the ongoing violence, not tribes.
Additionally, residents say stronger Iraqi security forces are making it safer to return. And their return is critical to stability, says US Army Lt. Col. Matthew Anderson. "The more IDPs you can bring back makes this no longer a safe haven for AQI."