Between displacement and return: Jurf al-Sakhar's inhabitants face security hurdles and political exploitation

Between displacement and return: Jurf al-Sakhar's inhabitants face security hurdles and political exploitation

Shafaq News / Experts and analysts assert that despite the liberation of the Jurf al-Sakhar sub-district from ISIS in late October 2014, most of its inhabitants remain barred from returning due to ongoing security precautions. They maintain that the sub-district's situation should not be closed hastily and must be kept separate from political negotiations and bargaining.

Covering an area of 50 square kilometers, the Jurf al-Sakhar sub-district, renamed Jurf al-Nasr after ISIS's defeat, is located in the north of Babel governorate, approximately 60 kilometers southwest of Baghdad and 13 kilometers north of Musayyib city. The sub-district is home to around 140,000 residents, predominantly from the Janabi tribe of agricultural workers.

Jurf al-Sakhar holds significant strategic value, owing to its challenging terrain and its vital position, which connects the western, central, and southern governorates. In 2014, ISIS seized control of the area, forcing the majority of its inhabitants to flee to safer locations.

Although the sub-district was reclaimed a few months after ISIS's takeover, the authorities overseeing it, primarily the al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces-PMF), have made it difficult for residents to return to their homes, resulting in the area being considered depopulated.

It is worth noting that over 7,500 families are displaced from Jurf al-Sakhar, according to Ali Jehangir, spokesman for the Ministry of Migration and Displacement. Speaking to Shafaq News Agency, he highlighted that "the eighth paragraph of the government program explicitly addresses the Jurf al-Sakhar issue. Additionally, the Minister of Immigration is actively engaging with decision-makers to expedite their return in the upcoming period."

Jurf al-Nasr served as a launchpad for booby-trapped vehicles, due to its proximity to cities previously controlled by al-Qaeda and later ISIS. During the liberation operations, the intense bombardment and fierce battles led to widespread displacement, turning the sub-district into a militarized zone, as explained by Hussein al-Saabari, a member of parliament for Babel governorate.

Some families have returned to the sub-district after ensuring their innocence regarding any acts of violence against Iraqis, while others are undergoing security screenings.

In 2017, the Babel Provincial Council unanimously resolved to pursue legal action against any political party advocating for the repatriation of displaced Jurf al-Sakhar residents. Concurrently, Falah Abdul Karim, then-deputy governor, revealed that over 5,000 arrest warrants had been issued for Jurf al-Sakhr residents suspected of joining ISIS or committing other offenses.

Although various Sunni leaders have demanded that the district be reclaimed from the PMF, accusing them of preventing people from returning to their homes, successive administrations have failed to address the Jurf al-Sakhar situation. PMF officials maintain that only those with security concerns remain in the camps.

Khamis al-Khanjar, leader of the al-Siyada Alliance, recently reiterated this demand, stating, "We will pray in Jurf al-Sakhar soon," in reference to the return of displaced Sunnis to the area.

Yassin al-Ithawi, a member of parliament, emphasized that the Jurf al-Sakhar issue is primarily humanitarian and should not be politicized or exploited for political gain. Speaking to Shafaq News Agency, he said, "Humanitarian matters cannot be subject to political bargaining," and urged the government to take serious measures to repatriate displaced families after ensuring their safety, while rejecting any political manipulation of the situation.

Political analyst Saad al-Muttalibi agreed with al-Ithawi on the importance of not using Jurf al-Sakhar's residents for political advantage or turning their region into a political slogan. He stressed that the area should be treated as a legal, administrative, and security issue, rather than being entangled in political discussions.

He concluded by stating that the territory must be reorganized to allow for a return to normal life and that there should be a political will to restore civilian life to the area while keeping terrorism at bay.

Political affairs researcher Abdul Qader al-Nayel affirmed that "Jurf al-Sakhar, home to 150,000 Sunnis, primarily from the Janabi tribe, is experiencing forced displacement, which is condemned by both Iraqi and international law. The situation can be characterized as ethnic cleansing and genocide, perpetrated by external and internal parties who exploit the displaced residents' lands for illicit drug cultivation."

Al-Nayel stressed that "The potential presence of wanted fugitives does not justify punishing entire cities and evicting their inhabitants. Similar actions have occurred not only in Jurf al-Sakhar but also in Mosul, Muqdadiya, Diyala, Aziz Balad, Yathrib, the phosphate complex, and Owaisat in al-Anbar. Such demographic changes cannot be tolerated."

He urged "the Speaker of Parliament to internationalize the issue of Jurf al-Sakhar by requesting the UN Security Council to deploy impartial UNIFIL forces in the area. This would help expose the ongoing events and establish control in preparation for the return of the displaced residents. Additionally, security forces should be formed from the local population, akin to local police forces responsible for protecting the city and its people."

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