As Iraqi forces retake the town of Rawa in western Anbar, the final urban area controlled by ISIS in Iraq, the International Rescue Committee expresses fears that dangers for civilians across the country will remain for some time to come. The IRC also calls on the international community to remain committed to the people of Iraq as the long journey to rebuild cities and communities across the country begins.

Nearly 3.2 million people remain in limbo across Iraq – unable or unwilling to return home after years of displacement. Some 2.6 million more have returned to their neighborhoods but many have no way of earning money to rebuild their homes or support their families and are struggling to get back on their feet.

International Rescue Committee’s Iraq Country Director Wendy Taeuber, said: “Today marks a historic day for the people of Iraq. It is, however, vital that the international community does not view the end of ISIS’ territorial control as the end of their responsibility to the Iraqi people who have endured years of conflict and face a long, difficult recovery. 

“Across the country over 11 million people remain in need of vital humanitarian assistance and will continue to need support as they begin to recover and rebuild their lives. Funding for this crisis must be maintained. We must not turn our backs on the people of Iraq. 

“Dangers are ever-present, especially in areas retaken from ISIS. This month, nine people were killed by ISIS booby-traps after returning to west Mosul. IRC teams have met many families who have had their lives shattered by violence, and who are in need of support that goes well beyond just physical needs. 

“Millions of people have been traumatized after witnessing the unimaginable horrors of ISIS rule, and being trapped in the middle of fighting to expel the group from Iraq. One father from western Anbar told the IRC how his children slept every night with their hands over their ears for fear of air strikes. The International Rescue Committee is providing men, women and children with specialized support and services to help them to overcome the trauma that they have experienced and take the first steps toward recovery.”

Since the start of 2014, when ISIS first controlled territory in Iraq, almost 5.8 million Iraqis have fled their homes, either to escape ISIS’ harsh regime, or to avoid getting caught up in the violence of the Coalition-backed military campaign to defeat the group. Homes and infrastructure were destroyed, millions of children missed out on years of schooling, and thousands of innocent lives were lost.

In the Old City of Mosul, it is estimated that a third of homes have been destroyed – many of which may never be rebuilt. Sadoun and his young family fled their house in the Old City in the final weeks of the fighting, with just the clothes they were wearing. Their home was destroyed and today they are living in a crowded rented house in east Mosul. 

“When we fled we didn’t really believe it. We felt like we were dying. We lost our home in the fighting. We can’t go back to the west; we can’t afford to rebuild. Most of our neighbors also lost their homes, and are stuck like us,” said Sadoun.

“Everything we have here was donated by our new neighbors. Three families share our new house – and the rent. Life is hard; we have no running water or regular power. Even so I hope we will be able to stay here in this house but we are struggling to pay the rent. I don’t know what our future will be.”

Like thousands of other families, Sadoun was missing vital documents which are required to access services and move freely. The IRC supported Sadoun’s two youngest children, aged 2 and 3, to get birth certificates, enabling them to get medical care and the vaccinations they missed out on under ISIS.

The IRC has been supporting people fleeing ISIS since 2014. Today, teams are working to provide vital support to people who fled western Anbar including al-Qaim. Teams have provided cash relief in the towns of Hit and Khaldiyah, services for women and girls in camps around Fallujah and legal aid to hundreds of families missing the documents needed to move freely and access service. In Mosul, Ramadi and other areas retaken from ISIS, the IRC is supporting thousands of families to begin to rebuild their lives with services including cash relief, livelihoods training and support, services for women and girls, legal aid and psycho-social support for children.

For more information or to arrange interviews with staff in northern Iraq, contact Paul Donohoe (Beirut) on [email protected] or +961 81757175.

Photos are available of Mosul and Sadoun and his family for use.