Fallujah – The road from Baghdad to Fallujah has many checkpoints where people’s ID’s are detected, in addition to the place they come from, their destinations, and the reasons behind their visit – however, the press card can answer all these questions because security forces have been very cooperative with journalists.
On our way we had to change our directions many times to avoid roads with explosive bombs before reaching Fallujah, which was controlled by ISIS for more than three years. Asharq Al-Awsat visited the city liberated in June and covered the stories of destruction in it.
Fallujah has witnessed many attacks since the U.S. invasion in 2003 till its liberation from ISIS’s members in June 2016.
We passed the first military checkpoint easily, but at the second one on the city’s borders we were surprised with a jam of cars transporting families returning from refugees camps to their houses; women and children seemed happy while men were busy receiving approvals on entering their city, which they left three years ago…According to Issa Yasser al-Issawi, the city’s district president the procedures consist of verifying whether those men who are returning are not related or have connections with ISIS or past murder crimes; these procedures have been easily implemented due to the cooperation of the security bodies with the returning families.
Issawi who was appointed one year ago told Asharq Al-Awsat that more than 60% of refugees didn’t return to their homes and that around 23,000 families have resettled in the city; he added that authorities have preferred not to approve the return of some families because their sons were involved with ISIS to avoid bloody tribal revenges.
Issawi noted that Iraqi officials, heads of tribes, MPs have been called to discuss measures to hold an inclusive conciliation.
The suffering of Fallujah’s people did not end; Issawi noted that the Iraqi government has not paid compensations for people whom houses were damaged due to the attacks of the Iraqi forces and ISIS. In the city, we saw destroyed houses, schools, markets, and mosques. However, despite all this destruction, people have been grateful for their return to their city.
Issam Fayad, a citizen from Fallujah told Asharq Al-Awsat that he didn’t leave the city for the past three years because he preferred to stay there on being humiliated in the refugees’ camps. Fayad said that they have suffered from lack of food and fuel; they were obliged to burn their furniture to cook, while some families starved to death.
He added that ISIS controlled all properties and governmental buildings; they oppressed people and forced them on executing orders; they spread explosive bombs everywhere and they even banned smoking.
Fayad added that after the member of ISIS, who were foreigners – not Iraqis, controlled the city, people’s escape was impossible while the Iraqi forces were randomly bombing the city.
According to the Issawi, the security forces lost their control over Fallujah since 2011. Later in 2013 ISIS appeared and used popular protests to spread and impose their control using kidnapping and bombing to intimidate people who refuse to obey them.
The Falluji official added that power supply has resumed in a number of residential neighborhoods and that maintenance processes have been ongoing to fuel the city back with power; reconstruction have been launched based on personal efforts without any help from the government, however, authorities have worked on the rehabilitation of infrastructure’s projects and bridges’ reconstruction.
The scene in the liberated city was not totally pessimist; people have succeeded in finding some optimistic factors: the city’s markets have been refilled with goods and people insist on rebuilding their old city no matter how long it might take.