Encouraged by the reported success of the US Army's "surge" in Baghdad and running out of money in exile, large numbers of Iraqi refugees are heading home. Unfortunately when they get back they often find no home to return to. The top map shows Baghdad in April 2006. The bottom is the city in November, 2007. The blue areas are predominantly Sunni neighbourhoods. The yellow are mixed Shia, Sunni, Christian neighbourhoods. The red are Shia dominated zones. The biggest demographic change is the enormous expansion of Shiite occupation of Baghdad and the commensurate decline in the city's mixed neighbourhoods.
The city has been pretty thoroughly ethnically cleansed. Houses vacated by those who fled for their lives were quickly re-occupied or looted, even destroyed. If you're a Sunni returning to what has, during your absence, been transformed in Shia territory, what do you think your chances are of telling the Shiite in your home to get out? From the Washington Post:
"It's very easy to say, 'Come home,' " said Guy Siri, the U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. "But come home where, and how? It's much more complex than that. You have to look at the whole environment, how the community will accept them, whether it's economically viable. There's a whole lot of thinking on the government side to be done."
U.N. refugee officials immediately advised against the move, saying any new arrivals risked homelessness, unemployment and deprivation in a place still struggling to take care of the people already here. For the military, the prospect of refugees returning to reclaim houses long since occupied by others, particularly in Baghdad, threatened to destroy fragile security improvements.
"It's a problem that everybody can grasp," said a senior U.S. diplomat here. "You move back to the house that you left and find that somebody else has moved into the house, maybe because they've been displaced from someplace else. And it's even more difficult than that, because in many cases the local militias . . . have seized control and threw out anybody in that neighborhood they didn't like."
At least one of every six Iraqis -- about 4.5 million people -- has left home, some for other parts of Iraq, others for neighboring nations.