“I don’t own a thing and even if I owned the world, if Iraq would become a country again, I would never return,” said an Iraqi I met two years ago in Jeramana, a hub for Iraqis in Damascus, Syria. He told me between sobs about the kidnapping of his youngest son, whom he later found dead in an abandoned Baghdad schoolyard. He fled to Syria with his wife and two surviving children the day after he recovered the body.
“Everything is gone,” an Iraqi living in a crumbling apartment in East Amman, Jordan, told me in 2008 while his pregnant wife paced nearby. In 2006, his house in Baquba, Iraq, burnt down amid crossfire between Iraqi insurgents and US forces. He sat at home and smoked cigarettes while pondering the future. “I never want to go back. [Iraq] will be divided,” he said.
Despite the relative drop in violence, fewer Iraqis returned home in 2009 than in 2008.
Sporadic violence keeps many away – about 2,000 civilians have been killed this year alone. Many refugees do not have a home to return to.
Neighborhoods once Sunni are now Shiite, and vice versa. Homes left vacant are now occupied by strangers. The Iraqi government has done little to compensate lost property and facilitate returns.
And basic services are still in disarray. According to the Pentagon, only 20 percent of the population of Iraq has access to sanitation, 30 percent to health services, 45 percent to potable water, and only 50 percent to more than 12 hours of electricity per day. “We expect it will take us another two or three years to get us to a point where people will have enough electricity,” said Iraq’s envoy to the US, Samir Sumaida’ie, in May.
Refugees in Syria, Jordan and beyond live on meager handouts from the United Nations while they monitor conditions across the border. In October 2009, the UN estimated that 500,000 Iraqi refugees were in need of immediate resettlement abroad.