There are approximately 5 million refugees inside and outside Iraq. Yesterday Rick and I went back to Chikook, a refugee neighborhood on the north side of town that is home to, by local estimates, some 4,000 families. Even though the sectarian violence around Baghdad has largely ended for the moment, the neighborhood is still growing as families who had been renting houses in other neighborhoods run out of money and are forced to move there.
Children skipped stones in ponds of sewage while we spoke with Adnan, a man we met last year. He informed us that after the Jeish al-Mehdi had gone to ground, the Iraqi government had actually tried to shut down the neighborhood, which had once been controlled by the Jeish. Adnan went to the Iraqi parliament with four other men to request that such a move not be taken, and though they are still receiving no government assistance, they were allowed to remain on the land.
Adnan and most of the people in Chikook are Shiites from once mixed villages around Baghdad. Adnan says it's his dream to go back, but that he won't be anytime soon. The Sahwa who have now made the situation more secure, he says, are the same people who kicked everyone out of their homes.
We found one man who said his brother had tried to go back to a small village near Abu Ghraib, only to have his house blown up by the Sahwa a day later. We contacted the brother, whose name was Fadhil, who had just been released from the hospital but gave us the location of the house and drove toward Abu Ghraib.
We located the house from the highway and negotiated with a nearby Iraqi Army checkpoint to drive into the neighborhood to film. The Iraqi lieutenant told us that between 75 and 90 Shiite families had returned to the area the previous day, and that the Sahwa in the area had destroyed six or seven houses in area. The area the families had moved back into was heavily protected by the Muthanna Brigade, a more or less entirely Shiite unit of the Iraqi army. Fadhil, it seems, had jumped the gun — the army told us his neighborhood, less than five minutes away, was still not under control. We looked for someone there to interview, but when they saw the army and the camera (not sure which was the bigger turnoff), they scattered. They spoke to us off camera, indicating that they were still afraid of "Al-Qaeda."
We will check in on the families that did return before we leave the country.