Iraq today is faced with a multilayered displacement crisis that is massive in both size and complexity. It is estimated that 3.8 million Iraqis were displaced from their homes from 2003 to 2008, with the majority of them becoming displaced in 2006 and the first half of 2007

221

Summary

  • Iraq has experienced several waves of mass displacement over the last forty years that have left complex land and property crises in their wake. As security has improved and some of the nearly five million displaced Iraqis have begun to come home, resolution of these issues are at the fore of sustainable return.
  • The land and property challenges faced by returnees include claims of ownership and usage rights by the current occupants of their homes, destroyed and damaged property, business infrastructure that has fallen into disrepair, and a general lack of affordable housing units.
  • Such land and property challenges are made all the more complex by the combination of short- and long-term displacement within the country and by the multiple causes of property loss, including expropriation by the Ba’ath regime, terrorism, sectarian violence, military operations, economic hardship, and a general climate of fear.
  • Iraqi government property-recovery policies make a distinction between those who were displaced in the Ba’ath period (pre–March 2003) and those who were displaced in the post-Ba’ath period (post–March 2003).
  • The Commission on the Resolution of Real Property Disputes provides recourse to victims of the Ba’ath regime through a quasijudicial process, and the Council of Ministers Decree 262 and Prime Minister Order 101 facilitate property recovery through an interagency administrative process for those who were displaced in 2006 and 2007.
  • Although Decree 262 and Order 101 represent, in principle, a pragmatic and efficient process for property recovery, the process should be made accessible to a broader section of the displaced by expanding its temporal scope and allowing alternative means of proving one’s displacement and property rights. Implementation of Decree 262 and Order 101 should also be improved by clarifying the roles of the various agencies involved in the process and by providing a dedicated capacity for administration and oversight.
  • Ultimately, the Iraqi government needs to adopt a holistic strategy that goes beyond property recovery and the limited categories of displaced targeted today. It will need to grapple with the aftermath of sectarian cleansing and the fact that many displaced will choose not to go home. Its policies must also reflect the realities of the housing shortage, the humanitarian needs of returnees, the changing security conditions, and the economic crisis affecting all Iraqis.

About the Report

The crisis of displacement in Iraq has created an array of challenges related to land and property that must be addressed if return is to be sustainable. This report analyzes the nature of these land and property issues and the measures thus far taken by the Iraqi government to address them. It concludes with recommendations on how these policies can be improved and broadened to have a more durable impact.

The report draws on the extensive efforts of both the United States Institute of Peace and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to assist the Iraqi government in the design of displacement-related land and property policies, including a July 2008 conference in Amman sponsored by the Institute and the World Bank and a November 2008 conference in Baghdad sponsored by the Institute, IOM, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Deborah Isser is a senior rule of law adviser at the Institute, where she directs the project on land, property, and conflict. Peter Van der Auweraert is a senior legal adviser at IOM and has been working with the Iraqi authorities on land and property issues since 2003.

Related Publications

The Pope's Visit to Iraq and the Future of the Country’s Christians

The Pope's Visit to Iraq and the Future of the Country’s Christians

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun

The visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Iraq this week happens in a context of despair felt across Iraq’s ethnic, provincial and sectarian spectrum. Christians in Iraq, victims of decades of oppression, look at this visit as a symbol of hope. They also hope it will help address some of their lingering fears. The pope’s priorities for Iraq’s Christians should be formulated in specific terms. While Christians in Iraq remain hemmed in on how to deal with the past, but optimistic about their future, most feel overwhelmed by the upcoming visit of Pope Francis. As in many other cases, some of the expectations from the visit are indeed too high to meet.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Religion

In Iraq, Advocates Aim to Reform Education to Build Collective Identity

In Iraq, Advocates Aim to Reform Education to Build Collective Identity

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

By: Joshua Levkowitz; Salah Abdulrahman

Vida Hanna, a director for public relations at Catholic University in Erbil, recalled the first week of her first-grade year when a classmate called her a kafir, or an infidel, upon learning that she was Christian. “He told me I would burn in hell,” said Hanna, a former member of USIP’s Iraq team, still shaken by the experience 22 years ago. Hanna’s experience is a microcosm of the ignorance and negative thinking that exist among segments of Iraqi society, which can exacerbate intercommunal tensions.

Type: Blog

Education & Training; Reconciliation

A Year After Soleimani Strike, Iraq Bears the Brunt of U.S.-Iran Tensions

A Year After Soleimani Strike, Iraq Bears the Brunt of U.S.-Iran Tensions

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun; Sarhang Hamasaeed

The January 3, 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil marked an escalation in already simmering U.S.-Iran tensions. For Iraqi leaders, the Soleimani strike exacerbated an already challenging balancing act in maintaining Baghdad’s relationships with the United States and Iran, with whom it shares a long border and religious and social ties. During the past tumultuous year for Iraq, U.S. forces and Iranian-allied armed groups engaged in tit-for-tat attacks in Iraq. USIP’s Elie Abouaoun and Sarhang Hamasaeed look at how U.S.-Iran tensions played out last year in Iraq and the region and if the incoming U.S. administration, and its desire to reengage in nuclear talks with Iran, could help allay the impact on Iraq.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

What Will Become of Iraqis in Al-Hol?

What Will Become of Iraqis in Al-Hol?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

By: Sarhang Hamasaeed

The al-Hol camp in northeast Syria—which holds tens of thousands who were living among ISIS before its territorial defeat—has presented the region and international community with a host of thorny challenges. What to do with the camp’s residents has particularly bedeviled the Kurdish authorities who run the camp as well as the governments of countries where residents came from. On October 5, Kurdish authorities said they would release the Syrians in the camp, where conditions have become increasingly unsustainable. But, nearly half of the camps’ 65,000 residents are Iraqis, and their prospect for return remains deeply uncertain. USIP’s Sarhang Hamasaeed discusses the situation facing Iraqis in al-Hol and the challenges ahead if they indeed return.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Violent Extremism; Reconciliation

View All Publications