More than a thousand families from the Iraqi village of Al-Awja, the hometown of the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, have been living away from their homes for nearly a decade.
In 2014, the rise of ISIS and its grip on large swathes of provinces west and north of Iraq, including Saladin Governorate, where Al-Awja is situated, forced families to leave their homes.
Military authorities in Al-Awja, which is located on the banks of the Tigris River and is about 10 km south of the city of Tikrit, the center of Saladin, offer various reasons and excuses for not allowing the return of these uprooted families.
The authorities are claiming that some of the families had sympathized with the terrorist group, accusing some of even participating in some of the crimes carried out by ISIS.
Some, however, believe that the matter has to do with taking revenge on the region and its residents as most of them are relatives and kinsmen of Saddam. Before the fall of his rule in 2003, the region enjoyed significant influence and power.
Today, many of Al-Awja’s locals took refuge in the Kurdistan region. Some of them went to live in Tikrit, and some preferred to move to Turkiye or other Western countries.
“We are not alone as there are other families who were not allowed to return to their homes, such as the people of Jurf al-Sakhr, but our misfortune seems exceptional given our closeness to the late President Saddam Hussein,” Falah al-Nada, the son of the head of Al-Bu Nasir tribe, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Saddam was a member of the Al-Bu Nasir tribe.
“The new regime placed us in the category of permanent enemies who are not allowed to return,” added al-Nada.
“In 2003, Law No. 88 was issued. It considered all the people of Al-Awja to be pawns of Saddam’s regime, and decided to seize their movable and immovable money,” reminded al-Nada, adding that the law was revoked in 2018.
Al-Nada voiced his surprise regarding the decision to prevent the return of the people to their homes and said there is no justification other than “the will for revenge.”
When asked about the conditions of the city of Al-Awja 20 years after the overthrow of Saddam’s regime, al-Nada said: “We do not know, but the city has turned into a military barrack controlled by a faction affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).”