Zakariya was holding some dirty plates in his hands, as he said, “These are the only things left behind. Behold the damage inflicted on our house.”
This man has just returned to his home in Bistamle village after five years of displacement.
The village which is located in Duz Khurmatu district, a disputed territory claimed by both the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan regional government, Salahaddin province was overran by the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014. The entire small population of the village fled their homes.
Zakariya Mousa, son of the village head was shocked after he saw the immense destruction left behind. Their house was heavily damaged and inconvenient for living.
“This is what has remained from the efforts and the money we spent to build this house; it is all gone and turned into ashes”, he said.
Befor the arrival of IS in June 2014, approximately 90% of Bistamle village residents were Sunni Turkmens while the rest were Shiite Turkmens.
Zakariya estimates the size of the damage inflicted on the village to be 70%. “All what is left are burned down houses and markets”, he added.
Bistamle villagers have been in displacement for nearly 5 years. Despite that the area has been recaptured; security forces are hindering the return of displaced families to their homes in 54 villages in Salahaddin, including Bistamle. Returnees are compelled to go through tough scrutiny measures to prove they were not affiliated with IS.
KirkukNow documented the moments Bistamle families returned to their village.
An 11-year-old boy standing near the ruins of their house which he left years ago. The expressions on his face were not the same as it was when security forces allowed his family to return to the village.
The impact of the legacy of war could be sensed on his face as he watched all his dreams and expectations fading away.
A man in his 40s was sitting amid the rubble of their house holding a book in his hands. His tears ran down his face as he was kissing the book.
Returnees had to deal with another war legacy represented by the booby traps that could be left behind by IS in their houses.
The war against IS between 2014 and 2017 wreaked havoc and destruction in large swathes of land, particularly in the disputed territories.
“After 5 years we returned to our homes. We didn’t expect what we saw. The area is not suitable for life; therefore the government should immediately start the rehabilitation of houses, schools and everything”, said a resident of Bistamle.
Despite the end of IS in Iraq, an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis IDPs are still unable to return home due to the lack of essential services in their home areas.
Mutashar Abbas, member of the Salahaddin provincial council, speaking to KirkukNow, said, “The council has voted for the implementation of a range of service projects in Bistamle, including water and electricity projects as well as the rehabilitation of two schools.”
He believes more displaced families will return in the few coming months.
The return process of IDPs is a bit complicated. Those willing to return should be interrogated by the national security department to investigate whether they had ties with IS group.