Insurgency Paralyzes Life in Diyala Province
Humanitarian Assistance Blocked by Violence
BAQOUBA, 22 March 2007 (IRIN) - Relentless violence in the Sunni-dominated province of Diyala, about 60km north-east of the capital, Baghdad, has hampered the delivery of humanitarian assistance to displaced families and has paralysed life there, local officials said.
“Humanitarian aid is only trickling as the security situation has deteriorated very much due to attacks by Sunni insurgents against US and Iraqi forces as well as violence between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims,” said Thari Mohammed al-Taie, head of the provincial office of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.
For months, Sunni insurgents have been slowly taking control of Diyala. Now, with violence apparently ebbing in Baghdad, Sunni insurgents believed to be loyal to al-Qaeda in Iraq have fled the capital and increased the intensity of their fight against US and Iraqi forces in Diyala as well as stepping up their attacks against Shias, according to local officials.
Last June, the self-confessed former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a US airstrike near Baqouba, the capital of Diyala. Since then, the Islamic State of Iraq, another group with links to al-Qaeda, has claimed Baqouba as the capital of its self-proclaimed shadow government.
In response, the Shia Mahdi militia, loyal to firebrand leader Muqtada al-Sadr, has been fighting back strongly.
In early March, some 700 US soldiers arrived in Diyala to join 3,500 US and 20,000 Iraqi soldiers already there to fight insurgents.
As a result, Al-Taie said that about 10,300 displaced families, nearly 61,000 individuals, are scattered in Diyala’s abandoned governmental buildings, schools, parks and the empty houses of members of rival sects. A small number of them are staying with relatives.
The year-old sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias, members of Iraq’s major Muslim sects, has driven about 4,300 of these families out of the neighbouring provinces of Baghdad, Salaheddin, Anbar, Babil and Kirkuk, while others have been internally displaced within their provinces.
Late last year, the Iraqi government launched its Social Protection Programme by which it pays a maximum of 120,000 Iraqi dinars (about US $93) a month to a six-member displaced family and a minimum of 60,000 Iraqi dinars (about US $47) for a two or three-member displaced family.
In addition, early this year the government paid 100,000 Iraqi dinars (about US $78) to every displaced family in the country. They were all paid in cheques.
“But these families are still holding the cheques as banks in Diyala have had no money since about six months ago as it is very difficult to protect trucks that bring money from Baghdad,” al-Taie said.
He added that sometimes the Ministry of Displacement and Migration brings in aid items from its stores in the northern province of Kirkuk but “our eight-member team, three women and five men, is unable to roam the city to distribute them as security forces are concentrating on chasing militants and can’t protect us until more troops arrive”.
“Life is paralysed now,” said Ibrahim Bajlan, head of Diyala provincial council. “Ninety-five percent of people’s daily activities are halted as food rations have not come into the province for about five months now, employees have not received their salaries for two months, and telephone communication has been cut as insurgents have been attacking cell phone towers,” Bajlan added.