GENEVA (Reuters) – Iraqi families who fled recent sectarian violence and military operations are returning in numbers to certain areas of Baghdad where security has improved, an international aid agency said on Tuesday.
An estimated 4,000 families or 24,000 Iraqis who fled fighting between security forces and Shi’ite militiamen during a two-month offensive earlier this year have gone home to Sadr City, a Baghdad slum which is now relatively stable, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.
“We note returns to certain neighborhoods of Baghdad in the last few weeks, including particularly Sadr City,” IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told a news briefing in Geneva.
Fewer than 4,400 people remain uprooted from Sadr City, an eastern Baghdad district where several hundred people were killed during nearly seven weeks of fighting that erupted in March, the IOM said in its latest report on mass displacement in Iraq.
Sadr City is a bastion of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia, estimated to number tens of thousands, which battled Iraqi and U.S. forces before a truce was agreed on May 10. The anti-American cleric pulled his bloc out of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government last year in protest at his refusal to negotiate a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.
Sadr City is “experiencing relative stability and Iraqi forces report that the majority of the city is under their control, although intermittent clashes continue…and Iraqi forces continue to conduct search campaigns in buildings for weapons and insurgents”, the IOM report said.
Some 1,000 displaced Shi’ite and Sunni families have also returned to Baghdad’s Rasheed sub-district, it said.
Families are returning to Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood, but not to their original homes because the area is still divided along sectarian lines, it added.
Other provinces are experiencing returns of displaced persons, although to a lesser degree, according to the IOM. In many Iraqi cities or areas families cannot return to their former homes either because they were destroyed or are occupied by squatters, or due to continuing insecurity, it said.
In the south, including Basra and Muthanna provinces, local authorities have recently issued warnings to displaced families and resident squatters to evacuate public properties or face up to three months in prison or fines, according to the agency.