Salah Mohammed al-Bayaa, team leader on a United Nations-funded project, checks on the water supply in the village of al-Ghazali, south of Baghdad.
Salah Mohammed al-Bayaa, team leader on a United Nations-funded project, checks on the water supply in the village of al-Ghazali, south of Baghdad. Deborah Amos/NPR
One of the enduring legacies of the war in Iraq is the large number of Iraqis still displaced by the violence unleashed after the U.S. invasion. The majority of refugees outside the country have not returned, and most of the displaced inside the country are struggling to survive in tent communities and shantytowns.
In one relative success story, a group of displaced Iraqis finally returned home — but to a village almost completely destroyed.
Al-Ghazali In Ruins
In their desolate community south of Baghdad, houses are broken; outer walls are missing; concrete slabs hang from metal bars; the ceilings are partially collapsed. But for the farmers of al-Ghazali, this is home.
About 100 families moved back a month ago after enduring three years of hardships 20 miles away in a displacement camp.
When asked what displaced them, the village's tribal leader, Sheik Abu Abel, says, "Al-Qaida."
Salah Mohammed al-Bayaa, the leader of an Iraq team funded by the United Nations to help rebuild the village, explains how al-Qaida in Iraq did so much damage. "They put an IED [improvised explosive device] inside the house and destroyed the house," he says, and after that, they bulldozed the homes.
The insurgents are gone now. The farmers of al-Ghazali believe it is finally safe to live here, but everything they need to survive is gone, too. The village has no electricity, no water and no services, says Ali Abed, one of the younger farmers. He blames the Iraqi government for the dire conditions.
The villagers are registered with the government's Ministry of Displacement. They are eligible for assistance, but so far have gotten nothing — no money and no help. The government program is not working, says Bayaa. And that, he says, has stalled large-scale resettlement.
"We found many, many families. They didn't receive any money and support from the government," he says.
'Very Bad' Conditions
The only water for the people and animals in the village comes from the river.
"This is unhealthy water, directly from the river — no filters, no sterilization tablets — and they use it for drinkable [water]," Bayaa says.
There have been cases of typhoid and cholera among the children, he says. The families live in sheds that once housed animals.
The U.N. team tries to close the gap between what the government has promised and what it has not delivered. But the number of internally displaced people is overwhelming. Bayaa says they number "about more than 1 million."
Whether they live in camps or have returned to their villages, the conditions are "very bad," he says.
Bayaa promises the farmers of al-Ghazali that he will be back. He can't fix everything, but he has the funds to provide some basics: nonfood items such as soap and water filters, and a project to raise and sell livestock.
"After we supply them with service projects, I hope that all the families return back," he says.
But al-Ghazali is just one village. The mass relocation of Iraqis still displaced will take years to resolve.