The local government of Salaheddine province has commenced a reconstruction plan in Baiji district in collaboration with the UN, a local official told Diyaruna.
The district was heavily destroyed during operations to oust the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in October 2015, which prompted the Iraqi parliament to declare it a disaster zone three years ago.
Only limited reconstruction has taken place since then, and most of the 200,000 residents who were forced out are still unable to return, because houses remain uninhabitable and public services are in tatters.
Reconstruction efforts include 20 public service projects and thousands of damaged homes, Salaheddine governor Ammar Jabr told Diyaruna.
These projects comprise schools, health centres, government facilities and infrastructure including water, electricity, roads and bridges, he said.
The companies selected to implement the projects have been notified, he said, adding that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will finance and manage this effort in collaboration with government agencies.
Reconstruction plans also include the rebuilding of 1,000 out of around 7,000 homes that were damaged at the centre of the district, said Jabr, noting that houses that were burned down will be prioritised.
The local government seeks to achieve progress in the rehabilitation of Baiji district to "ensure the return of all displaced families and achieve stability and development", he said.
Jabr highlighted the local authority's commitment to build 5,000 low-cost homes throughout the province to house displaced and impoverished families.
He pointed to the success of the reconstruction plans in other cities liberated from terrorism in Salaheddine, particularly Tikrit.
"We have completed a number of projects including the rehabilitation of 150 schools and the reopening of [government] facilities that had been shuttered since 2014 across a variety of public service sectors," he said.
Mines pose challenge
Public services are not the only obstacle to the return of normal life in Baiji, as landmines also constitute a daunting challenge, said MP for Salaheddine Muqdam al-Jumaili.
The district is still not completely safe from the threat of ISIS explosives and landmines, which is a main hurdle that prevents residents from returning and from completing reconstruction projects, he told Diyaruna.
The local authority is currently working with the UN to expedite the process of clearing Baiji of all remnants of war following the success of removing thousands of landmines that were hidden in agricultural land and public facilities, he said.
Similar to the rest of Salaheddine province, Baiji and surrounding towns are witnessing strong security, Salaheddine provincial council chairman Sabhan Mullah Jiyad told Diyaruna.
Operations are ongoing to pursue and target ISIS remnants in Baiji Island and the desert that stretches towards Anbar province, he said.
Terrorists do not pose a threat to the district, he said, adding that the challenges are primarily linked to public services "that we, as local officials, seek to remedy".
The reconstruction projects listed under the framework of the local government plan will provide a suitable living environment for thousands of residents who were forced to leave their homes and now wish to come back and close the chapter of displacement for good, Jiyad said.