https://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2017/02/22/feature-01

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Hundreds of families return to western Anbar

By Saif Ahmed in Anbar

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Heet residents cross the Euphrates to return to their homes after Iraqi forces liberated their district from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'. [Saif Ahmed/Diyaruna]

Hundreds of displaced families have returned to their homes in western Anbar now that explosive remnants of war have been cleared and services have resumed.

"The battles to expel the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) from the western areas are ongoing ," said Anbar provincial council head Ahmed Hamid al-Alwani.

Only three districts -- al-Qaim, Rawa and Anah -- remain under the group's control, he said.

Families are returning to Heet, Heet Island, al-Baghdadi and al-Rutba, which have been secured and where most businesses and services are up and running.

Government and security committees have been facilitating the return of families after verifying the identities of male returnees, al-Alwani said.

Over the last few months, public sector agencies have resumed the provision of services such as water, sewage management and disposal of war-related debris.

"Related activities include operating privately owned generators, opening main and side roads, removing waste and any signs of ISIL, such as graffiti and terrorist slogans, painting sidewalks and removing signage hung by ISIL," he said.

The number of families returning to western Anbar varies according to the area, provincial council member Hamid al-Dulaimi told Diyaruna.

In Heet Island, 450 families have returned, he said, while 140 families have returned to al-Baghdadi, 400 families to Heet, 183 families to al-Rutba, 397 to al-Baghdadi Island and 77 families to Jubba in Heet.

Services resume

Life in the Upper Euphrates towns has gradually returned to normal, al-Dulaimi said.

The local government has provided more than 33 waste disposal vehicles, distributed among the liberated areas of western Anbar, he said, and has opened more than 20 medical treatment centres in these areas.

Additionally, he said, mobile committees have been providing patients with in-home medical services in the liberated areas.

These areas were massively damaged as a result of ISIL’s three-year occupation, which has affected "every business, school and landmark", al-Dulaimi said.

Bridges, mosques and energy plants also have suffered extensive damage, he added.

Most of the district of Heet's displaced population has returned and most public facilities have been rehabilitated, including schools, said Heet local council head Mohammed Muhannad al-Heeti.

Other public services that are now functional include the water plant, sewage services, local police centres and traffic regulation, he said.

"Heet is in need of substantial government support in the form of financial compensation for residents whose homes were destroyed as well as reconstruction of destroyed bridges across the Euphrates," al-Heeti said.

This will facilitate movement between the liberated areas in Heet and other areas of western Anbar, he said.

Residents return

Residents who have made their way back to their homes are slowly picking up the threads of their lives.

"It was like a dream come true to be able to return to our homes and areas," al-Rutba resident Ahmed Shahwan al-Ghareeri, 38, told Diyaruna.

"We were very happy to be back to our secured homes and meet with our relatives and neighbours after three years of displacement," he said.

Al-Rutba residents were also happy to see the army, police and tribal fighters who "greeted us and gave us food and water as we returned to our areas", he added.

The people of Anbar will not allow ISIL to return, he said, as the group "has destroyed our area and tarnished its landmarks".

Life has been difficult for returnees, however, as many people's homes were destroyed by ISIL, the area's agricultural land is in need of rehabilitation and jobs and a source of regular income are hard to find.

"We need additional compensation from the Iraqi government as well as attention from officials in Anbar," al-Ghareeri said.

"Being displaced for more than three years has depleted all our financial resources, leaving us penniless," said al-Baghdadi Island resident Wafa Hammoud al-Shimmary, 30.

"We were unable to buy anything basic as we went back to our liberated areas, and we need for the national grid to be operational again and additional supplies of water to be pumped," she said.

"We are happy that our area is liberated," she said. "But happiness, security and stability require other things, such as providing employment opportunities for unemployed youths, as well as opening additional roads in every liberated area."

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