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Iraqis ponder returning home

Iraqis displaced by war are key to the country's future, yet many are reluctant to resettle there.

During the peak of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, aside from problems with limited capabilities and corruption in the Iraqi security forces, the fledgling organization’s resources were spread too thin to effectively secure many outlying villages.

“Back at that time we couldn’t cover enough territory,” Iraqi police major Bassem Ibrahim Abid said. “We could only project our presence in limited areas.”

When insurgents threatened villages like Bey’a, even those residents who tried to take a stand were unable to defend themselves without the support of better-armed security forces.

“We fought against them and they killed most of our sons. They had rocket-propelled grenades and [belt-fed machine guns] and at the time we didn’t have the army to help us,” said Fisal Gazi, a resident of Bey’a.

Today, however, with the ranks of Iraqi security forces nearly doubled compared to what they were three years ago, Abid says his men are able to effectively police the entire province.

Still, Iraqi security forces will have to prove themselves to a number of skeptical Iraqis and demonstrate that they can maintain security, especially now that U.S. forces have pulled out of cities.

“It’s very important to bring all the displaced people back because without them there is a big space for AQI to come back,” Iraqi Army Col. Abd al-Razak Jasim said. “Bringing all the families back allows them to share in the security and work as our sources.”

U.S. Army Capt. John Turner, commander of Alpha Company, 2-8 Field Artillery battalion, is optimistic that more displaced people will begin returning throughout Diyala, especially now that the school year has ended. Many parents said they wanted their children to finish the school year before returning to their homes. However, a number of refugees said they would want central services, such as electricity and clean drinking water, restored before they’d consider returning.

“It’s a which comes first, the chicken or the egg,” Turner said. “They don’t want to come back unless the services are back, and the government doesn’t want to restore those services unless people come back.”

In Bey’a, where about 40 percent of the residents have returned, those still waiting to return also say they don’t want to come back unless a job awaits them. Others who lost their homes are waiting on the Iraqi government to provide them with compensation so that they’ll have enough money to restart their lives.

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