By Kamal al-Ayash.
In Anbar, Security Forces Hang Onto Private Homes They Requisitioned
During fighting against the Islamic State group, it was necessary for security forces to occupy private property in Anbar’s cities. But now the security forces appear reluctant to give back the homes they took over.
The argument went like this: Without establishing checkpoints and headquarters for security staff in residential areas, security cannot be guaranteed in the cities once controlled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State.
And so fortified houses and other suburban buildings became a common sight in cities of the Anbar province, a Sunni-Muslim-majority area where the extremists had controlled many of the major cities. The argument that these bases were necessary was also one advanced by less-official military groups, such as the formerly-volunteer Shiite Muslim militias and the anti-extremist forces set up by local often-Sunni Muslim tribes.
The homes and offices had security gates installed, were surrounded by barbed wire and roads leading toward them were blocked off. The security forces based in Anbar say converting the residences gives them an opportunity to protect the city without having to build whole new premises and it also means they can be in the best possible position in each city.
At first the bases in ordinary neighbourhoods were considered temporary. But now, even after the Islamic State, or IS, group, has been driven out of the province, the bases appear to have become more permanent. Even though Anbar’s local councils say that there’s an agreement with the various security forces that they will vacate the private property over the next few months, it doesn’t seem to be happening the way it is supposed to.
Senior security staff at Fallujah’s police department say that the houses security forces are still occupying now are those that were used by the IS group for their headquarters, or were also property belonging to the leaders of the IS group. Any other houses used by security forces were returned to the owners once the IS group was banished.
“When we get requests from citizens who want to return to their houses we vacate the property and that usually takes between one and two weeks,” says Jamal al-Jumaili, the chief of police in Fallujah. “But we do check whether the security records of the citizens are clean.”
And this is where problems arise. Proving a “clean” security record can be difficult. Some locals even suspect that local militia groups occupying their houses are promulgating suspicions against them, so they don’t have to give up the property.
Anbar local, Mathar al-Halbusi, says he has tried several times to return to his home in Fallujah. The last time the 65-year-old, who lives with his family in camp for displaced people south of the city, tried to return he was surprised to find that his house was guarded and encircled with barbed wire: It had become one of the new bases.
“I tried to go in, but I was not allowed to,” he told NIQASH. “Later I was told that the house was being used by tribal militias and they had taken it over because it belongs to a criminal family.”
Al-Halbusi told NIQASH that his son had disappeared several years ago and that gossip in the neighbourhood had it that the man had joined the extremists. Al-Halbusi said his son was dead although he had no idea where.
In Ramadi, it seems that some of the militias have taken over property even though the families to whom the buildings belonged had no blemish on their records.
Local man Firas al-Dulaimi says he has tried to return to his house in the Soufiyah neighbourhood in the suburbs of Ramadi but that the residence is occupied by security personnel. Al-Dulaimi says he’s tried and failed several times to get a security clearance, that would show that he has no connections with any extremist groups and would allow him to get his house back.
“I’ve tried so hard to prove my innocence but every time I do, I am newly accused of treachery,” he says. “My latest attempt to return home also failed and in fact I was threatened by members of the militias. Now I have to stay in a camp and wait for the government to do something, to help those of us who are oppressed and who are helpless.”