Iraq: Not a HomecomingIn December 2018, I witnessed the violent closure of Kilo 18, a camp in Anbar given that designation because it was 18 kilometers from the town of Ramadi in central Iraq. The scene was awful: families screaming at soldiers, demanding an explanation for their expulsion; others quietly huddled together, their flip-flopped feet caked in cold mud, by their now-empty tents.
These were families who wanted to return home but were not being allowed to by the army and their local communities because they were perceived to have links to ISIS. Most often it was because a father, brother or son was alleged to have taken up arms with the group. Now they were being told they had to leave the makeshift tents that had been home for the last few years and move to yet another camp. Any hopes of a true homecoming—back to the towns, villages, cities where they made their lives before Iraq tumbled into chaos in 2014—seemed more remote than ever. For many, going “home” is complicated, fraught, even dangerous. For others, it is impossible.
Displacement from the Battles Against ISIS
At the peak of the fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS in 2017, at least 5.8 million people had been forced to flee their homes. Dozens of camps sprang up across Iraq to house the displaced, and as fighting subsided some families started to go back home. But many remain displaced—an estimated 1.8 million—450,000 of them across 109 camps and another 1.2 million in private or informal housing arrangements.
The remaining displaced are uniquely vulnerable to abuse. Some are being forced to return home to unsafe conditions, where they risk landmines, revenge attacks from neighbors, or forced recruitment into local armed groups. Some are being prevented from returning home, and are effectively detained in camps. The shuttering of Kilo 18 was part of a larger effort in