The district of Tal Afar was one of ISIS’ most important strongholds. Many of the group’s most senior leaders came from the district and were positioned there in order to protect it. The district served as the group’s vital link between its territories in northern Iraq (Nineveh) and north-eastern Syria, especially after Iraqi forces liberated most of Anbar at the beginning of 2016.
Despite ISIS’ staunch defence of the town, Iraqi forces managed to sweep through Tal Afar in August 2017, just one month after liberating the group’s largest stronghold of Mosul. The Iraqi forces managed to liberate the entire district within a matter of two weeks, as ISIS defences across Iraq and Syria began to crumble.
Since the liberation of Tal Afar, internally displaced people (IDPs) have been trying to return to their homes after spending up to three years in camps and other government held towns. However, a number of issues remain that are preventing families from returning to their homes.
The most pressing issue remains to be the security in the district. Attacks, although periodic and sporadic, have occurred, which have increased worries amongst IDPs that the town still remains too dangerous to return to, Furthermore, many roads and buildings are littered with landmines and other explosive devices that can detonate at any time.
Khalil al Mawla, a politician from Tal Afar, says that displaced families still fear to return home because of mines, which have already killed 45 people. Al Mawla says that this problem can only be solved if specialist bomb-disposal units are sent into the district to clear it of landmines.
“The displaced people [from Tal Afar], living in the southern provinces, have begun gradually returning to their rehabilitated homes and areas, in hopes of ending their displacement problem which has been in effect for three years. However they are still waiting for the [explosive] war remnants found around their homes to be cleared since they create a threat to their families,” says al Mawla.
According to statistics from the local authorities in Tal Afar, so far 10,000 families, or 60-70,000 individuals are currently residing in the district. This is much lower than the pre-ISIS days where the population was closer to 200,000 people.