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Fears of Demographic Change in ‘Baghdad Belt’

Fears of Demographic Change in ‘Baghdad Belt’

Wednesday, 23 June, 2021 - 08:45
A general view taken from a helicopter shows the Baghdad clock tower in Harthiya Square in the west of the Iraqi capital. (AFP file photo)

Public debate is sweeping Iraq after a residents, mainly Sunnis, have refused to allow investment in the tens of thousands of acres surrounding the Baghdad International Airport.

While opposition arguments vary, rejection is mainly anchored in fears the investments would lead to overpopulation and forcing a demographic change in the area located west of the capital.

Locals have been vocal in their complaints to senior officials and have held demonstrations against developing the airport’s vicinity. They voiced their fears of being forcibly driven out of their homes or having newcomers posing a demographic shift in their neighborhoods.

Tribal and political leaders west of the capital drew parallels with how the local population of “Jurf al-Sakhar,” north of the central governorate of Babel, underwent a drastic change after ISIS’s occupation in 2014.

Sunnis in Jurf al-Sakhar were evicted from their homes under the pretext of their alleged support for terrorism. These areas are now dominated by armed factions loyal to Iran.

Despite Sunni leaders nationwide calling for the return of those displaced to their homes and reconstruction demands for the area falling on deaf ears, delegations composed of a mix of Shiite and Sunni officials are still trying to gain access to Jurf al-Sakhar to assess the current situation there.

No delegation has so far succeeded in that endeavor.

Efforts for opening the vicinity of the Baghdad International Airport to investment date back to 2018, but the Iraqi parliament froze the government push.

“This process is organized and aims to bring about a demographic change for sectarian purposes,” former Iraqi lawmaker Eyad al-Jabouri told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Al-Jabouri raised suspicions of systematic targeting of the Baghdad Belts - the residential, agricultural and industrial areas, as well as communications and transportation infrastructure that surround the Iraqi capital and connect it to other regions.

“Various parties are behind this operation,” he warned.

However, he acknowledged Iraq’s need for investment, given its dire economic and social conditions.

Last week, the Iraqi government took the decision to allocate over 988 acres of land plots surrounding the airport for investment. This renewed fears of a bigger development plan looming on the horizon for the area under the banner of “investment.”

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