Iraqi displaced persons run into difficulties going home

Here is a pretty good Washington Post article titled For Sunnis, an Uneasy Return Home. It tells the stories of a few Sunni Iraqis who have reclaimed their homes in Baghdad which had been occupied by Shiites. Here’s the nub of it:

Across Baghdad, Iraqis are trickling back to onetime sectarian killing zones, in an attempt to reclaim their houses and former lives. While Sunnis are emboldened by a sharp decrease in violence and protection from the Iraqi government, many wonder whether they can trust the predominantly Shiite security forces and whether they can resume living among neighbors who once sought to kill them.

“It will take a very strong law to bring Sunnis back to Hurriyah,” said a senior Shiite police official who would give only the nickname Abu Ahmed. “As Iraqis, it is difficult for us to forget those who were killed. It needs a long time.”

…In Hurriyah, of the more than 7,000 Sunni families who fled in late 2006, roughly 325 have reclaimed their houses, mostly in the past month. A middle-class enclave in western Baghdad, Hurriyah is a sprawling jigsaw of tan mosques, shop fronts and modest houses.

U.N. officials and human rights groups are concerned that a speedy resettlement could touch off new strife, in part because sectarian segregation has helped to reduce violence. Already, Shiites who occupied Sunni houses are being pushed out, often by force, and returning Sunnis have come under attack. U.S. military officials, wary that a sudden influx of returnees could undermine security gains, say they are proceeding carefully.

“This will be a long and controlled process,” said Col. William B. Hickman, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, which is working with Iraqi security forces to bring Sunnis back to Hurriyah.

325 out of 7,000 in a month? That sure is a long process. Maybe they should try something else. The sectarian violence was extremely traumatic to its Iraqi victims, on all sides. I wonder if it is unrealistic to expect Sunnis and Shiites to live together amicably at this time. It might be more productive to give new houses to those displaced and let people live in the neighborhoods in which they have sorted themselves out. That way reconciliation can proceed at its own pace as the country returns to normal, but returnees won’t feel as if they are living under a death threat the way many of them seem to feel now.

Another point is that some of the displaced people are Sunnis who themselves killed people. If their neighbors know that, they can hardly be expected to welcome them back. Part of the success of the surge was accepting Sunnis who had been insurgents but had changed their minds and supported the U.S. Was there such  a movement among Sunni insurgents who became internally displaced persons? Apparently not, so how do people know which Sunnis they can trust?

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