Abstract

Although many people displaced by Saddam's regime over the years looked forward to returning as soon as the 2003 war ended, a number of problems emerged which continued to bedevil the return process as late as one year after the war. These problems included an unclear political future for the country, competing political and sectarian forces that often view IDPs and refugees as strategic tools or weapons, a hesitant and initially undecided Coalition policy on the return issue, unclear mandates for the various actors that could assist with returns, lack of funding, and most importantly of all, an extremely poor security situation which has impeded or even blocked all progress on the return issue. Nonetheless, because Iraq's Ba'athist dictatorship was the overwhelming cause of displacement in the country to begin with, the future does hold some hope for Iraqi displaced persons. This paper examines the causes of return problems in Iraq and how various authorities in post-Ba'athist Iraq are addressing the return issue. Particularly around the contested city of Kirkuk, problems relating to the return issue risk igniting ethnic conflict and possibly even civil war in Iraq as a whole. The article examines the return issue for the period from March 2003 to June 2004, focusing especially on northern Iraq and Kirkuk. The research presented here is based on fieldwork conducted in Iraq by the author between September 2003 and May 2004. The author went to Iraq independently, with the assistance of a Canadian Department of National Defence post-doctoral research grant. Interviews were conducted with US and Coalition Provisional Authority officials, Iraqi Interim Government officials, Kurdistan Regional Government officials, NGO workers, and IDPs themselves during visits to camps around Kirkuk and Baghdad.

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