Cablegate: Lessons Learned From Idp Returns To

DE RUEHGB #0535/01 0591541
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E.O. 12958: N/A

REFERENCE: Statistical Source for Returnee Data
for the period: summer of 2008 - January 2010, was
the Saydiya Support Council.

1. (SBU) Summary: Community leaders from south
Baghdad's Saydiya neighborhood report that
approximately 7,200 displaced families have
returned since early 2008 and that around 1,400
families have not returned but rent out their
homes. (NOTE: Baghdad ePRT tracking data from
police statistics showed 2266 families returned to
Saydiyah during the period 14 March 2007 - 18
February 2009 END NOTE.) Returns to Saydiya
illustrate important points about IDP returns in
Iraq: 1) the necessity of engaging the support of
local community leaders, as opposed to working
through government institutions exclusively in
facilitating returns, 2) the stabilizing impact of
the use of concrete walls in potential areas of
return, and 3) the willingness of some returnees
to accept higher security risks and poorer basic
services than the international community might
assume. Some elements of the Saydiya experience
cannot be repeated such as the robust presence of
U.S. troops in the area of return and the
expenditure of Commanders Emergency Response
Program (CERP) funds to help fill assistance gaps.
Elements like the ability of local leaders to
encourage and sustain returns despite precarious
security and difficult living conditions offer
hope for returns after the U.S. drawdown. End


2. (U) Saydiya, a south-Baghdad neighborhood in
the Rashid District has many upscale houses and is
home to people of some affluence; in south
Baghdad's Rashid district, it was a mixed Sunni and
Shia area, located along what became a
sectarian fault line in late 2006. Just south of
Bayaa, a Shia area then dominated by the Jaysh Al-
Mahdi Militia, and just east of Risala, a
predominantly Sunni area then dominated by Al-
Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups, Saydiya
was the scene of a turf war between Sunni and Shia
militants and daily anti-U.S. attacks. It was one
of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad. Most
residents were educated professionals including
former regime military officers, university
professors, and doctors, a demographic that could
afford to flee and would not form militias for
self-defense. More than 8,000 families, over half
of the area's residential population, fled between
late 2006 and mid 2007. Several hundred Shia
families as well as families with members working
with the U.S. Government fled in 2005 as Al-Qaeda
and other Sunni militants consolidated influence
in the area.

3. (SBU) In late 2007, United States and Iraqi
forces cleared Saydiya house by house. In early
2008, concrete walls were erected around the
neighborhood controlling access through two
checkpoints. The walled area included about
12,500 houses that accommodated an original
population of about 60,000. In late 2007, the
Prime Minister's Implementation and Follow-Up
Committee for National Reconciliation (IFCNR)
appointed a Support Council, a group of 26 Sunni
and Shia community leaders, to fill the role of
the elected but inactive Neighborhood Council.
The members of the Neighborhood Council had been
displaced, killed or jailed. In early 2008, IFCNR
and the Support Council began reaching out to
Saydiya's displaced through the media to try to
facilitate returns. After potential returnees
proved ownership of homes, Iraqi Security Forces
(ISF) with U.S. support, evicted squatters and
cleared weapons caches and booby traps, ISF also
Qcleared weapons caches and booby traps, ISF also
facilitated movement through checkpoints, which
had been established in the area. U.S. troops
conducted foot patrols day and night. In the
spring of 2008, displaced families were returning
at a rate of about 20 families per day. As of

BAGHDAD 00000535 002 OF 004

July 2008, about 1,800 families had returned. The
Support Council told Office of Foreign Disaster
Assistance (OFDA) representatives that
about 7,200 families had returned as of January

Lessons Learned: Unelected Bodies Drove Returns
Process, Not GoI Ministries:
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (SBU) IFCNR and its Support Council
facilitated the returns process in Saydiya with
robust support from U.S. forces and ISF. Support
Council members fielded inquiries from potential
returnees, verified returnee property ownership
with the Land Deed Registry, checked the
conditions of potential returnee homes to
determine if they were habitable, and arbitrated
disputes among residents. MoDM stipends required
lengthy bureaucratic procedures and many returnees
were not registered as IDPs leaving them
ineligible for MoDM stipends. Because of this,
IFCNR used funds from the Prime Minister's Office
to give small stipends for the first groups to
return. IFCNR also provided stipends to Support
Council members since their efforts required a
full-time commitment and they incurred incidental

5. (U) U.S. forces used CERP funds to rent a villa
for the Support Council, distribute micro-grants to
small business owners, and rehabilitate local
infrastructure. For a time, Saydiya's
Neighborhood Council met in the Support Council's
structure. In contrast, the MoDM, Baghdad
Provincial Government, the Rashid District
Council, and service ministries did little to
facilitate returns to Saydiya. Support Council
members report that fewer than half of Saydiya's
returnees are registered with MoDM and have
received their one million dinar stipend and that
the Baghdad Governorate has provided property
compensation to 107 homeowners in a neighborhood
that experienced considerable property damage.
Residents report that line ministries did not do
much to improve services. At the height of
returns to Saydiya in the summer of 2008, pools of
sewage flooded main roads, access to running water
was sporadic, and residents received two hours of
electricity per day from the state grid.

Sunni/Shia polarity in the Support Council
remained vivid through early 2009. Mixed returns
continued despite the change of Support Council
leadership from Sunni to Shia, with a majority of
one, in a telephonic vote conducted in early 2008.
Although there were allegations that the Shia
Chairman of the Support Council, Abu Marwan,
was manipulating returns, police statistics
provided to the former ePRT for the Rashids
showed 227 Sunni families returning vice 399
Shia families during mid-March 2007 through
mid-February 2009.

Lessons Learned: T-Walls Prove Essential in
Providing Security:
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (SBU) Saydiya residents and Support Council
members told OFDA that concrete walls proved
decisive in facilitating returns. They allowed
security forces to prevent most militia and
weapons from re-entering the area after it had
been cleared. Some residents reported that they
would consider leaving Saydiya if the walls were
removed because they would anticipate an
immediate deterioration in security conditions.
Residents also said the visible presence of large
amounts of U.S. and Iraqi forces created
confidence and deterred violence. There has been
a trade-off however, as T-walls have created
security but held back economic recovery in some
of the neighborhoods closest to them.
Redevelopment of the Saydiya Fish Market was in an
QRedevelopment of the Saydiya Fish Market was in an
advanced stage when it was halted by the placement
of T-walls in March 2009.

BAGHDAD 00000535 003 OF 004

Sustainable Returns Occurred Despite Precarious
--------------------------------------------- -----

7. (SBU) Support Council members told OFDA that
despite steady but low levels of attacks in the
area, few returnees fled. Support Council members
said a number of families received threatening
letters with bullets in them and that perhaps ten
returnees were killed in 2008. However, they said
most attacks targeted U.S. and Iraqi security
forces and Support Council members. In 2008 two
Support Council members, including the resettlement
committee chairman, were killed by car bombs, three
were wounded in shooting attacks (the brother of
one of the chairmen was fatally wounded), and one
was targeted by a bomb planted outside his house.
Police and one of the victims suspected Shia-Sunni
tension within the Support Council as a motive
behind one of the 2008 shooting attacks. Children
of several Support Council members were killed or
wounded in attacks in 2009.

8. (SBU) In addition to the estimated 1,400
families renting out their homes in Saydiya,
Support Council members say others remain
displaced, their homes are vacant. One
family squatting in a cinderblock room in the
International Zone displaced from their
four-bedroom villa in Saydiya, told OFDA Reps:
"We feel safe enough to visit, but we aren't
ready to move back. People know we used to
work at the Embassy and they've threatened
to kill us before. How can we
be sure they aren't still out there?"

Lessons Learned: This is Not Darfur

9. (SBU) When OFDA asked Support Council members
what more could have been done to support returns,
they reported that not all assistance reflected an
understanding of the neighborhood's needs. The
Support Council Chairman emphasized that educated,
urban residents have different needs than most
donors anticipated. The chairman's comments
reflect a challenge humanitarians have struggled
within Iraq, the fact that as a middle-income
country, beneficiary expectations are higher than
in many humanitarian responses. He complained
that some NGOs, in their apparent effort to
balance assistance among sects, alienated the
populace. "Needy families were told, 'sorry, we've
provided assistance to Sunnis and now we need to
find some Shia.' This is unacceptable."

There's No Place Like Home, Even with Sewage in
the Yard:
--------------------------------------------- -----

10. (SBU) When the first waves of returns to
Saydiya began in 2008, several areas were
flooded with sewage from burst pipes. The girls'
school had no functioning bathrooms, running water
in most homes was erratic with low water pressure,
and the neighborhood had an hour or two of
electricity per day from the state grid
(consistent with other Baghdad neighborhoods). In
June 2008, OFDA asked returnees what had prompted
them to come home despite the lack of services and
precarious security. One family that had been
staying with relatives in Karada (east Baghdad)
replied, "The yard might be covered in sewage
right now, but we will fix it. This is our home.
We don't want to impose on our daughter anymore."

11. (SBU) NOTE: Many of the conditions that
facilitated returns to Saydiya cannot be repeated
in light of the bilateral Security Agreement,
including the robust presence of U.S. combat
troops and the rapid expenditure of CERP funds.
Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) do not have the budget
or logistical capacity to erect large quantities
Qor logistical capacity to erect large quantities
of concrete walls and Iraqi officials might find
it politically unfeasible to wall off new areas

BAGHDAD 00000535 004 OF 004

while claiming credit for having improved
security. ISF have proven generally reluctant
to conduct the kind of visible foot patrols that
created confidence and deterred violence among
tense residents in Saydiya, favoring instead
static checkpoints that can fail to improve
security off the main roads. However, ISF
may prove less reluctant than U.S. troops to
detain those suspected of carrying out attacks or
inciting violence against returnees. With
decreasing U.S. scrutiny and political leverage,
it might be easier for Iraqi leaders to use
returns to demographically engineer neighborhoods
for political or strategic gains, which could
undermine stability and hinder returns. End NOTE.


© Scoop Media

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