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As house prices rise, Iraqis find they can't go home again

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For those like Mohamed, this may mean making lifestyle changes. "Many people can't afford a house in the same neighborhood they used to live in, or they have to buy a smaller house than they had before," says Rafat Abud Jabar, a Baghdad real estate agent. Another concern is that some neighborhoods are reviving along sectarian lines, though some remain mixed.

Before the war, the majority of Iraqis owned a house or lived in a family-owned home. Mr. Jabar and other agents say that many former homeowners can now afford only to rent. In the past, 70 to 80 percent of Jabar's business came from people buying homes, with the remainder renting. "Now, it's almost the exact opposite," he says.

While no one can say how far-reaching the problem is, nearly 1 in 5 Iraqis – some 5 million – are displaced. The International Organization of Migration estimates that, at best, 140,000 displaced Iraqis had returned as of November. Of those, 86 percent went back to their houses.

"The Iraqi government is considering different polices and strategies in order to facilitate the return of displaced people to their homes, but I'm not sure you're going to find much sympathy on the part of the government for those Iraqis who freely … decided that it was in their interest to sell their homes, even if ... prices were unusually low," says Jason Gluck, an expert on Iraqi property laws at the United States Institute of Peace, a government-funded, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

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