It seems as though the “bad years” of Iraq have made a return to news stands once again. The Al-Qaeda nightmare that once haunted the Iraqi public and stole the lives of tens of thousands, if not more, of innocent civilians has returned, bringing with it an even more horrific episode of blood baths and sectarian antagonism.
Since 2003, Iraqis have yet to witness a period of peace and relative stability. Waves of bombs continue to shock the core of cities across the country. Armed militant groups terrorize the streets of Iraq, each flying their own different sectarian flags. All the while, a polarized government continues to prove its incapability to offer efficient solutions that aim to fix Iraq’s continuous violence.
December of last year marked the beginning of one of Iraq’s bloodiest chapters. The black flags of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have viciously taken over Al Anbar province, bringing the death toll up to 8,800 by the end of 2013, according to UN approximates, easily making it the deadliest year since 2008.
Iraq’s increase in violence is met with what is probably one the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century: Internally displaced persons (IDPs.) According to UN figures, there are 1.13 million internally displaced Iraqis, residing mostly in Baghdad, Diyala, and Ninewa provinces. On top of that, there are about 140,000 IDPs from the Anbar province alone. “This is the largest displacement Iraq has witnessed since the sectarian violence of 2006-2008”
While the UNHCR and other humanitarian groups are working hard to aid these IDPs, the numbers are far too great. Most of these IDPs are in immediate need for shelter, food and water, fuel, and other essential items. Most children cannot attend school and sanitary conditions are becoming difficult to sustain, resulting in a wide array of health hazards, particularly for women.
In a press briefing in Geneva on January 24, 2014, UN spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, said, “Establishing camps for the newly displaced is not [our] preferred option and may prolong displacement. But if the government of Iraq opts to establish sites, UNHCR is ready to provide tents and core relief items as well as provide support to camp management.”
UN reports indicated that a major bridge connecting Baghdad and Fallujah has been destroyed, limiting access to conflict regions and thus halting humanitarian agencies from delivering assistance to those in need. Today, February 4, 2014, Reliefweb issued a report announcing that the number of displaced people is reaching 44,443. However, this figure “is likely to be an underestimation and does not account for those trapped in areas of conflict.”
In addition to the dramatic increase of IDPs in Iraq, the country is receiving massive numbers of refugees fleeing Syria’s current civil war. However, those seeking refuge are not only Syrians. The UN reports that approximately 24,100 Iraqi refugees living in Syria have once again become refugees, now returning to Iraq. Most of these returnees cannot go back to their homes and cities of origins, causing a secondary internal displacement within Iraq.
The rising sectarian tensions in Iraq is worsening every day, and Syria’s civil war continues to fuel the instability in the region. With waves of refugees and internally displaced people steadily increasing, humanitarian NGOs and UN agencies are finding it increasingly challenging to aid the large amount of people in need. This leaves us with a critical question: How can Iraq become safe and witness peace again?