By Abdullah Salem.
Lack of a working property registration office in Mosul means fraudsters are taking advantage of legal loopholes to sell buildings and land out from under unwitting, overseas owners. While many owners fear retribution if they fight back in court, one US-based Iraqi woman is going to court.
There was nothing she could do other than file a lawsuit. For the past few years Iraqi woman, Faeza Mounir, has been living outside the country, in the US. But she still owns a house in Mosul, in the Somar neighbourhood. Or at least she thought she did. Mounir had rented her house to a local, who took advantage of her absence and legislative loopholes, to claim the house was his own in a Mosul court. After the house was transferred into his name, he sold it and pocketed the profits. Mounir was left with nothing.
Salem Jiryis tells a similar tale. He normally lives in Belgium and only found out that the family home he had supposedly inherited had been sold by accident. Jiryis was chatting on Facebook with an old neighbour in the Midan neighbourhood in central Mosul when the neighbour told him the surprising news that his house had also been claimed by someone else, then sold.
There are many similar stories told of houses sold in this illegal way in Iraq, following the US-led invasion that toppled former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime. The collapse of Iraqi state institutions, the lack of security, militias that roamed the streets and the general lack of rule of law resulted in a situation that criminals could take advantage of.
In Mosul, there is also another reason why this type of land grab is so prevalent: locals say it is a result of the murder of the head of one of the local government offices that supervised property registration in the province. The former administrator was assassinated in front of his house in 2006. There have since been more assassinations and employees in the department have grown more and more fearful – they no longer wanted to do their jobs properly and preferred to do mundane, daily tasks rather than registering property properly. Eventually the department was closed and it was also announced that many cases of fraud had been found after records there were examined.