There's No Going Home For Iraqi Squatters As American troops pull out of Iraq, one of the most striking consequences of the war remains unresolved: the issue of people who were forced out of their homes and still can't go back.
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There's No Going Home For Iraqi Squatters

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There's No Going Home For Iraqi Squatters

There's No Going Home For Iraqi Squatters

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One of the most striking consequences of the Iraq War is still unresolved today, and that's the issue of people who were forced out of their homes and still cannot go back. Relief organizations estimate there's some two million displaced people inside of Iraq. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Nadia Karim Hassan says she stayed in her Baghdad neighborhood as long as she could, but by the height of the sectarian war in 2007, too many fellow Shiites were getting killed, and she had to leave the area and move into an abandoned building. We met Nadia in front of the civil affairs court and spoke to her lawyer in a car.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: She has all her cases; marriage contract, she don't have marriage contract. Civil I.D.s for all family, so we come to court to do - to follow up this case.

MCEVERS: How long do you think it will take just to get, you know, one of these documents?

FEMALE: About one month.

MCEVERS: Nadia's lawyer works pro bono for the International Rescue Committee where it's policy not the reveal the names of local staff. What this lawyer is basically trying to do is prove that Nadia exists. Because Nadia lives as a squatter and she's now divorced, she has no documents. No proof of residence, no child custody, the list goes on and on. And what's your name?

AKRAM: Akram.

MCEVERS: Akram, OK. Without these documents, Nadia's son Akram can't go to school, can't go to a government hospital. Nadia is one of half a million people who live as squatters in Iraq. Laura Jacoby is the Iraq director for the International Rescue Committee. She says most squatters live in makeshift camps, hundreds of which are in plain sight, scattered around the capital, Baghdad.

LAURA JACOBY: It could be, right, a few families living in an old building. It could be hundreds of families that are starting to build makeshift homes, some of them in brick. But in the worst, you know, there's no running water, there's no septic sewer, there's no electricity.

MCEVERS: Up until recently, the way the government of Iraq dealt with squatters who lived in places like this was to tell them to go back home. The government even gives cash incentives to so-called returnees. But people like Nadia are too afraid to go back to their original homes. For them, the threat of being targeted is still very real.

Jacoby says the government's new approach is called the Baghdad Initiative. It would find new housing for some of the people who can't go back home again. The rest of the people would be able to stay where they are now, build new houses, get registered, and get their documents in order. That second part of the plan is proving to be the most difficult.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: We drive to a squatter camp near the Baghdad airport, where property values are going up.


MCEVERS: As we're driving through here it basically just looks like it's lots of garbage everywhere and homemade houses. And the thing about this land is it's actually - it looks terrible, it looks like a junkyard. But it's actually worth a lot of money. And this is the problem. This land is valuable, and so the people living on the land - although they need to stay, the government won't let them stay because the land is worth too much.

It's no surprise to aid workers that the problem comes down to money. While Iraqi officials are more keen to try and solve the problem these days, they're not so keen to fund it. Aid workers here say that's because Iraqis believe it's America that caused the problem by invading this country. And it's America that should solve the problem.

Kelly Clements is a deputy assistant secretary of state for the U.S. government, specializing in refugees and displaced people. She says the U.S. will continue spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on these issues in Iraq, but it's the Iraqis who have to take the lead.

KELLY CLEMENTS: That is probably, you know, our number one priority. So I keep mentioning the government of Iraq being in front, and that's where we want them to remain, and to remain very engaged.

MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News.


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