Research Terms of Reference: Al-Qairawan Area-Based Assessment (ABA) - Iraq, July 2022 Version 1



2.1 Background

Since the Government of Iraq (GoI) declared victory over the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in December 2017, Iraqis who have been displaced since the start of the conflict in 2014 have been returning to their areas of origin (AoO). As of March 2022, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) estimated that approximately 4,959,714 million Iraqis had returned to their homes, while 1,184,818 million remained internally displaced. These displaced and returnee households face a host of challenges to their return, which include damaged or destroyed homes, lack of infrastructure, services and livelihoods, and lingering insecurity.

For this ABA, REACH will focus on al-Qairawan town (also known as Bulaij) and its adjacent villages (Akhnesi, Biskqi, Sibaya Ammash, Um Amar, Al-Mualih, Al-Qahra, Hazeel al-Kabeer, and Hazeel Alwasti) in the Sinjar district of Ninawa governorate, one of the areas of Iraq that was most devastated by ISIL and the 2014-2017 conflict. Ninewa is located in northern Iraq and is the third largest and second-most populated governorate in the country, with an estimated population of 3,928,214 in 2020. The district of Sinjar is in the western end of the governorate, bordering Syria on its north and west sides, and alQairawan town lies to the south-east of the district capital in a predominantly rural area. Ninewa and Sinjar are home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Shabak, Yazidis, and Assyrians. While Yazidis make up the majority of Sinjar district, al-Qairawan town and the surrounding villages are largely inhabited by Arab Sunni Muslim households. ISIL’s occupation and atrocities in the area had a divisive effect on the different ethnic-religious groups, and there remains a need for reconciliation of the diverse population to achieve effective social cohesion.

As of March 2022, IOM DTM estimated that 27,150 individuals (4,525 households) lived in al-Qairawan subdistrict (including both returnees, and IDPs from elsewhere). This is markedly lower than the pre-2014 figure of approximately 74,000 individuals. Despite large-scale returns to al-Qairawan since 2017, no neighbourhoods or villages in the sub-district have seen all their displaced population return, and almost two-thirds have only regained half or less of their former inhabitants. This protracted displacement indicates the still existing barriers to return for IDPs from al-Qairawan and the discouraging challenges they may encounter on their return.

ISIL took control of al-Qairawan sub-district in early June 2014 and continued to occupy it until May 2017 when the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) retook the area. During the military operation, the remaining families fled to IDP camps and villages in the area of Mosul and beyond, with al-Qairawan being left largely uninhabited until the end of 2017. The subdistrict was greatly affected by ISIL control and the military operations to liberate it. Some buildings were destroyed by ISIL’s takeover of the area and others by airstrikes targeting the group. An estimated 40% of the houses were partially destroyed and a minority were fully destroyed or burnt. Health care facilities were also partially destroyed and looted by ISIL, roads were damaged and planted with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and the power stations, water system, schools, and government buildings in the area were severely damaged.

As of March 2022, Ninewa remains the governorate hosting the highest number of returnees (260,256 individuals) living in high severity conditions, according to IOM DTM’s Return Index. Al-Qairawan subdistrict is classified by the Index as one of the hotspots of severity among Ninewa governorate’s locations of return, with medium to high severity conditions in terms of livelihoods, basic services, safety perceptions, and social cohesion. Almost all of al-Qairawan town’s neighbourhoods are classified as having medium-level severity of living conditions and the surrounding villages have uniformly high-level severity. The primary challenges – particularly in the villages – are related to the provision of essential services (especially water, healthcare and government services) and to livelihoods (especially the recovery of agriculture and business and access to employment), which have reportedly been worsening since 2019. Severe social cohesion and safety issues – such as the threat of violence, multiple security actors and blocked returns – were also identified in the large majority of alQairawan’s neighbourhoods and surrounding villages.

Since the post-2017 stabilisation of the context in Iraq, a key priority for the government and the humanitarian community has become the identification of voluntary, safe, and dignified solutions to displacement through sustainable returns, local integration, or relocation. In order to find and achieve these solutions to displacement in al-Qairawan town and adjacent villages, humanitarian, development and government actors need up-to-date, accurate and in-depth information on current living conditions, service provision, and household-level vulnerabilities and needs in the locality. A strong evidence base can inform short (next 6 months) and long-term (beyond 6 months) interventions by these actors, making them more targeted and effective.