Kirkuk gives Baghdad ultimatum to begin return of IDPs to liberated areas

Kirkuk' Kurdish governor Najmadin Karim

ERBIL, Kurdistan (Rudaw) – Kirkuk Provincial Authorities have given the Iraqi government an ultimatum to start returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) based in Kirkuk’s neighborhoods and camps for the displaced within one month or the province will start evicting them.

“If they [the IDPs] await the Iraqi government to help return them, provide services and reconstruct their areas, it would take a long time,” Kamil Salaiy, Kirkuk’s mayor told Rudaw, adding that “some of the IDPs have found jobs in Kirkuk and admitted their children into schools; therefore it will become hard to evict them in the future.”

Around a half million IDPs from the center and south of Iraq have fled to Kirkuk since mid-2014 when the Islamic State swept into a third of the country. The IDPs are mainly from Tikrit, Anbar province, Baiji, Sleman Bag and Alam. These areas have all been liberated from ISIS.

Only 20,000 families have returned to their homes since ISIS retreated from their areas, beaten back by the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces.

Many of the IDPs are supported by aid agencies and the fear is that they do not intend to return to their homes in the liberated areas.

Majid Ahmed from Tikrit told Rudaw that Baghdad does not provide them with any assistance.

“The Iraqi government does not help us. We turned to them and cried to them to help us. It did not work. And now we will wait no more for Baghdad to return us to our areas.”

The displaced say they have no money in their pockets to pay for their return and to rebuild their lives. They describe their lives in Kirkuk as “miserable.”

“Our life conditions are miserable. If we return now, we will certainly need around 400,000 to 500,000 IQD (approximately $400). By God we have got no money, and people feed us,” said Raad Mahmood from Anbar who is now an IDP in Kirkuk.

Last month Kirkuk administration rejected a call by Baghdad to grant local ID cards to the war-displaced living in the province, accusing the central government of another tactic to “Arabize” the area.

“We reject this decree since it would help change the demography of the province,” Azad Jabbari, head of the Kirkuk Province’s Security Committee, told Rudaw.

According to the Iraqi constitution, any person who moves to reside in a new town or area is entitled to the right to local civil status.

This is the second time that the Iraqi Interior Ministry has issued a decree to Kirkuk authorities to grant local civil status to internally displaced living there for three years or more. But Kirkuk officials say they had an agreement with Baghdad that the IDPs would be returned to their homes once their areas are liberated from ISIS control.

The United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) insists that all returns of refugees and IDPs must be voluntary and done in a safe and sustainable manner under international humanitarian principles.