The town of Habbaniya in Iraq is reopening its tourist village in time for Nowruz celebrations, signalling a return to normality.
The town of Habbaniya on the banks of the Euphrates River and Lake Habbaniya is reopening its tourist village. Homes, swimming pools and beaches have all been reconstructed and fountains switched back on in preparation for an expected influx of tourists from neighboring provinces.
The upcoming Nowruz celebrations are anticipated to draw many tourists to the town to once again. However, all family celebrations are welcomed and weddings are particularly popular.
Habbaniya was the home of a vibrant and diverse community made up of Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Turkmen and Kurds. Mosques and churches existed side-by-side and lined the streets of the town. To locals, the town was known as “Little Iraq” due to the existence of all of Iraq’s sects and the peaceful interfaith relations they maintained.
Minority sects were forced to flee the town when it was seized by militants in 2014. But their absence in the city reverborates amongst its residents, leading once local to compare them to “the birds that left and made the town empty”. Like a dry tree given water once again to go green, the return of Habbaniya’s minorities will bring life back to the city.
Habbaniya is located in Anbar Province between the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Like the rest of Anbar Province, Habbaniya suffered from ISIS’ onslaught in western Iraq. The town became a significant staging point in the battle to liberate Ramadi due to the presence of Al Taqaddum Iraqi military base.
ISIS militants closed the Ramadi Dam upriver in an attempt to counter the Iraqi Army’s advance on their territories, as well as to drain the Euphrates River and provide a swift method of crossing to the Al Taqaddum side. However, the Iraqi Army was able to pump water from Lake Habbaniya into the Euphrates River to restore flow and maintain a level of defence.
Whilst the battle to liberate the remainder of Anbar Province continued, the town was used to house a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs).
By mid-2016, most of Anbar province had been liberated from ISIS control, allowing many IDPs to return to their home towns. Since then, reconstruction of Habbaniya’s infrastructure and the return of much-needed tourist revenue has been a priority for Anbar Province Governor, Mohamed Al Halbusi.