Four years after being forced to flee their battle-scarred town, the families of al-Baghdadi are finally home.
Authorities have allowed a group of families back into al-Baghdadi, a town in Anbar governorate 180 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, according to a sheikh representing the families.
The families fled the town in August 2014 after anti-ISIS forces began fighting ISIS fighters in the town with airstrikes and ground-fired munitions. Iraqi security forces retook al-Baghdadi in February 2015. Since then, despite being relatively stable, Iraqi security forces wouldn’t allow anyone to return home. The families lived in camps for displaced people in Anbar.
Three individuals from the group of families told Human Rights Watch that after obtaining security clearance from Iraqi authorities to return home, some families boarded government buses in February and again in June, but were turned back both times by armed forces at two different checkpoints.
But on June 26, two days after Human Rights Watch’s report on their plight, authorities informed the families they were allowed to return home, and 20 were able to do so that same day, with the rest planning to return in the coming days, according to the al-Baghdadi sheikh. While this welcome news, many families across Iraq continue to be blocked from returning to their homes. Human Rights Watch has reported on scores of other incidents across Iraq in which local authorities prevented families from returning home.
Iraqi authorities should take more steps to make possible the return for families from other areas of Anbar, including Heet, as well as over areas of Nineveh, Salah al-Din, and Diyala.
The Governorate Returns Committees – set up in April to facilitate the return of displaced residents – should be used to proactively advocate for the families still trying to return home. As one Iraqi woman told us, “If the government stops me from returning home, that means I am not an Iraqi anymore. Otherwise I would have a right to my home.”