The border town of al-Qaim in western Anbar province is shaking off the dust of war and starting to welcome back its residents after years of displacement.
Every week, around 400 families are allowed back to their homes after undergoing a thorough security check, al-Qaim mayor Ahmed Jidyan al-Dulaimi told Diyaruna.
The town, which was liberated from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in a lightning offensive on November 3rd, has been fully cleared of explosives and services have been restored, he said.
Displaced families have started making their way back to al-Qaim four weeks ago, he said, noting that about 1,500 families have returned to their homes as of January 9th.
Security forces are allowing families back on Mondays and Fridays, he said, adding that the security check they undergo ensures there are no ISIS elements among them who are trying to infiltrate back in the town.
The IDP file is "of utmost priority" to the local authority, al-Dulaimi said.
Of al-Qaim's original population of 180,000, there are currently no more than 40,000 people living in the town and its outskirts.
"We are trying to remove all obstacles that stand in the way of internally displaced people (IDPs) returning to their homes," he said. "The city has been completely cleared of landmines and booby-traps in homes thanks to the heroic efforts of the army and tribes."
"We have managed to overcome this huge challenge and can reassure displaced families that their neighbourhoods are now free of explosives and that the security situation is stable," he added.
Homes in al-Qaim only suffered minor damages in the fight against ISIS, al-Dulaimi said, adding that "this is encouraging and helps to expedite the IDPs' return back home".
The main problem lies in the huge damage inflicted to the infrastructure, which affects the provision of basic services, especially electricity and water, he said.
"We are currently working to solve this problem and have managed to take big steps towards that end," he said, "but the process to rebuild the buildings and infrastructure that the terrorists have destroyed and plundered requires both considerable support and time."
Extremists have attacked most electricity transmission towers, affecting the power supply.
"The electricity grid and energy plants such as the Ukaz gas plant have been completely destroyed," said Eid Ammash, Anbar provincial council spokesman.
Three gas pipelines, that stretch over 100 kilometres between al-Qaim and Rawa, also have been vandalised and destroyed, he told Diyaruna.
To address the power shortage, the city has been equipped with 40 large electricity generators, al-Dulaimi said.
Drinking water plants are operational again, he added, but only at half capacity.
"Several schools have reopened their doors to students but we have a shortage of school staff" because many are still displaced, he said.
Some schools located on the outskirts in al-Rummana, al-Obaidi and Saada are operating with "only two or three teachers", he said.
The same applies to all health sector institutions, al-Dulaimi said. Al-Qaim General Hospital and al-Obaidi Hospital have been rehabilitated and ready to open their doors but the number of doctors and health care staff is inadequate.
Al-Qaim provincial council member Hameed Nawar told Diyaruna that the local government is trying to remove all obstacles and provide a suitable service environment for the local population.
Public sector directorates in the city, including the local authority and local council buildings, have been reopened, he said, and market activity has resumed, although at a slow pace as all IDPs have yet to return.
Nawar stressed the importance of developing "an easier and more streamlined process to bring back displaced families".