Salaheddine province authorities have been organising community conferences to promote reconciliation among tribes and pave the way for the return of hundreds of internally displaced families, local officials told Diyaruna.
The province, liberated last year from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), is home to a diverse array of sects and ethnic groups, making the return of its residents a task that requires reconciliatory meetings.
Several such meetings have taken place between Sunni and Shia tribes, mediated by government officials and sometimes with religious authorities in Najaf in preparation for the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
"Community reconciliation conferences, which are attended by tribal leaders, are directly sponsored by the mayor and members of Salaheddine's provincial council," said Salaheddine provincial council member Ali Fadhil al-Dujeili.
The goal is to heal rifts among the province's residents and to build strong community relationships, he told Diyaruna.
"The conferences have been held in the parts of the province that witnessed waves of displacement over the past several years," he said.
These include the areas of Aziz Balad, Albu Hishma, Suleiman Bek, Baiji, al-Siniya and the villages close to Amarli.
"Reconciliation has helped pave the way for the return of families from different sects to their homes," he added, and has enabled residents to move beyond ethnic and sectarian differences.
Salaheddine, which is home to Sunni, Shia, Turkemen and Kurdish tribes, "can be viewed as a microcosm of Iraq", al-Dujeili said.
The Salaheddine provincial council has decided to move ahead with its own efforts to reconcile the tribes and return displaced residents, council member Hardan al-Farraji told Diyaruna.
"The local authority has succeeded in organising several meetings in Baghdad and Salaheddine provinces among leaders of different tribes," he said.
Community peace document
These efforts collectively led to the development of a community peace document that outlines the key steps towards reconciliation that must take place ahead of the return of the displaced population, al-Farraji said.
"A key item included in this document obligates the government to provide cash compensation to [the families of] ISIS victims in Balad, Yathrib and southern Samarra" ahead of their return, he said.
This is intended to ease their burden and dispel any lingering resentment between the families of ISIS victims and families whose members had joined the ranks of ISIS, he added.
The Salaheddine local authority has allocated five billion Iraqi dinars ($4 million) to facilitate the return of IDPs, with some of those funds going towards compensating the victims of terrorism.
"This has resulted in 108 families whose members perished in the fighting receiving financial compensation," al-Farraji said, adding that an additional batch of families are slated to receive compensation soon.
The peace document bans ISIS elements and their supporters from returning to their homes, while their families are exempted from this ban, he explained.
"Everything is going according to plan, as some of the families have come back and others are on their way," he added.
Families begin to return
Aziz Balad district in southern Salaheddine is now the focus of efforts to return the displaced population to their homes, al-Farraji said.
"But the challenge lies not only with reconciliation, but also the damaged infrastructure," he said, noting that in Aziz Balad alone, 3,600 out of 4,000 homes belonging to displaced families were destroyed.
The electricity plant had been looted and seven water purification plants, 11 mosques and 15 schools, had been destroyed, he added.
"Reconstruction will require funding, but families are willing to come back to this level of destruction because even that is better than living in refugee camps," he said.
The process of reconciliation has been occurring amid a prevailing atmosphere of amity, said Salaheddine provincial council chairman Khalid al-Khazraji.
"It is backed by commitments from the local authority, which has the support of the federal government in Baghdad," he told Diyaruna.
Al-Khazraji attributed the success of the community reconciliation efforts and efforts to return IDPs to the cordial nature of tribal relations in the province, noting that 90% of the tribes renounce sectarianism.
Intermarriage is common among the various tribes, he said.
Many displaced families have returned to their homes as a result of the reconciliatory efforts, he said, adding that it is possible that all displaced families will return home to Salaheddine before the end of the year.