With ISIS retreating from areas previously under its control in Northern Iraq, a comprehensive peacebuilding strategy must be agreed immediately to ensure the safety of all civilians, including both returning communities and those who remained under ISIS control. After ISIS, a new PAX report based on extensive interviews with internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Ninewa Plain in the Kurdish region of Iraq, lays out the serious security concerns at stake and provides proposals to address them.
"Without a clear peacebuilding strategy, possible retreat of ISIS in the Ninewa Governorate and its capital Mosul will only lead to renewed conflict, threatening the security of returning IDPs as well as the Sunni Arab civilians who are currently living under ISIS control," explains Sam van Vliet, the Iraq program officer for PAX.
Ninewa Governorate is wedged between Kurdish Northern Iraq and Arab Central Iraq. Large areas are part of the Disputed Internal Boundaries (DIBs) areas, contested between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Government of Iraq. This area is home to the majority of Iraq's minority groups, and is the most diverse region in the country. The history of demographic engineering in the region continues to fuel land disputes today and ultimately paved the way for ISIS taking control in 2014.
Interviews with communities show that the impact of ISIS on the future of Ninewa's social fabric is complicated, extending far beyond displacement of people from the area, and therefore requires a more sophisticated response than simply a physical return. Communities displaced from Ninewa are highly disillusioned by the lack of protection by the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
"Forced return or denial of return of IDP communities to their homes in Ninewa would lead to a new stage of demographic engineering as well as renewed conflict and human rights violations," van Vliet asserts.
PAX calls on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government to take effective steps to prevent retaliation and revenge operations against civilians, and to ensure the right of return of all recently displaced communities, while preventing forced return and resettlement. Both parties need to come to an agreement on the disputed territories urgently and engage in the re-establishment of a legitimate and inclusive local governance structure.
PAX believes that the international community, including the UN, the EU, and countries participating in the International Coalition against ISIS should use their leverage on the Iraqi and Kurdish government to ensure that retaliation is prevented, parties refrain from forceful or denial of return of IDPs, and to bring both parties to the negotiation table on the status of the disputed territories.