Since 2014, confiscating and seizing of property has become increasingly prevalent in Iraq, with thousands of homes and properties being sold, without their owners’ knowledge. Armed militias have undertaken these land-grabs, supported by Islamist parties that have been at the helms of power since 2003, in coordination with a number of public land registry officials.
All Sects Targeted
Mostafa Eissa, a Shi’ite Iraqi man, tells Raseef22: “An armed militia took over a plot of land that I had purchased in the ‘90s in East Baghdad, measuring about 10,000 square meters.”
He further notes that the “feeble enforcement of law and order, due to rising corruption in government circles, has allowed the dominance of armed groups to grow, culminating in these land-grabs.”
“The armed group divided the land into smaller plots, selling each 100 square meters for 15 million Iraqi dinars ($11,700), though its actual value is 120 million dinars ($93,600),” he adds, affirming that “all my attempts to recover the land have failed, even though I still own it officially. It’s very difficult to knock down buildings once they have been erected.”
Leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, is one of the few politicians who has made an effort to distance himself from followers who have undertaken such grabs, forming a committee to follow up on the issue and hold violators accountable. Moreover, Al-Sadr set up channels for citizens to file complaints through his personal office in the Najaf Province.
Similarly, Mohamed Al-Qurra Ghouly, a Sunni former army officer, tells Raseef22: “I have owned a plot of land for about 20 years in the Mahmoudiya District in South Baghdad. However, an individual associated with the state-sponsored militias took over the land. This individual managed to transfer the land ownership to his name, with the help of corrupt officials in the Land Registry Office.”
Armed militias have been seizing people's properties in Iraq, and selling them at fractions of their market price.
“A house has been built on the land, and a family lives there, even though this is seized land,” he explains.
Meanwhile,Joseph Seiloua, a representative of the Christian community in the Iraqi parliament, tells Raseef22: “Weak legal frameworks have allowed the spread of armed groups who have targeted Christians and taken over their homes, selling them or just seizing ownership.”
Joseph further claims that “thousands of homes have been seized, and we are currently coordinating with the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad Operational Command to recover them” and
affirms that he is currently pushing for the issuance of a decision in parliament obliging the government to ensure that Christian properties are safeguarded against threats. He further aims to gain traction for the cause by corresponding with the Security Council and other UN bodies, as well as the EU.
The Baghdad Municipality estimates that approximately 300 districts have sporadically popped up around Baghdad, through encroachment on government and private land. The population of these areas has reached 2.4 million.
The purchase and sale of homes that have been acquired by armed militias occurs publicly, at prices well below their market value. Thus, many Iraqis who would have previously wished to buy land as an investment fear doing so, lest their land is seized.
A source in the Iraqi judiciary explains that these armed groups seize the homes by “threatening the homeowners, who then have no choice but to leave the home shortly thereafter. This allows the groups to coordinate with officials in the real estate authorities to make copies of the property title. The armed militias then counterfeit the owner’s identity papers, and submit them to the notary, thereby being granted authority over the property.”
“Having the ‘correct’ documentation in hand, these militias can then sell the property, as well as take out loans in the original homeowner’s name,” the source continues, noting that “the judiciary can void the sale contract if the actual homeowner can provide any evidence [that the home was illegally acquired], in which case the counterfeiter is referred to the criminal court”.
Are Any Solutions Being Offered?
The Higher Judicial Council has issued a general order to courts, calling for the utmost attention with regards to homeowners’ complaints, in particular those submitted by Christians, according to the official spokesperson of the Higher Judicial Council, Abdel Sattar Beiraqdar.
Beiraqdar further notes that “the order stipulates that a transfer of ownership cannot be made in absentia, unless the paperwork is thoroughly investigated and is proven to be genuine”.
“The Council has emphasized the importance of ensuring the integrity of a claimant’s statements that the homeowner has travelled outside Iraq or that his/her location is unknown. It does not suffice to simply publish a notice in the local newspapers. The courts must moreover adhere to the rules of jurisdictions in these particular cases,” he concludes.