When an outbreak of violence, the collapse of a regime or a natural disaster causes a large number of people to suddenly leave and move elsewhere or, conversely, causes them to rapidly return to their former homes or land after years of displacement, social reality becomes drastically altered in the process. The dramatic changes that large-scale displacement and return inflict upon the population make-up of affected communities invariably trigger important changes in the demands and needs for services and assistance from the state. Frequently, state capacities will be overwhelmed, at which point the international community is usually asked to step in. 
Large-scale population movements usually require two types of responses. The first is the immediate and, at least in theory, short-term response to alleviate the humanitarian needs of the displaced population or returnees and the affected communities. Key challenges here include the continuation of the provision of basic services to the displaced population and affected communities as well as the fulfilment of the new needs created by the displacement, such as, for example, the need for temporary shelter. The second type of response concerns the policies to durably resolve and end the internal displacement crisis through return, local integration, resettlement elsewhere or a combination thereof. This response tends to require a broad range of policy interventions that touch upon multiple areas including security, transitional justice, livelihoods, reconstruction, economic development, rule of law and, if the displacement was conflict-related, reconciliation.
In post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, it has been the large-scale displacement following the bombing of the shrines in Samarra in February 2006 that has posed the biggest challenge in humanitarian terms. In a period of a little over a year, five percent of the total population of Iraq, or a staggering 1.6 million individuals, fled their homes and communities and settled elsewhere in Iraq.  Many of those who fled were threatened because of their religion or ethnic belonging, while others left their homes out of fear in the midst of the out-of-control sectarian violence that devoured their neighborhoods and communities. This large-scale dislocation caused enormous strains on the already struggling Iraqi state institutions responsible for the provision of basic services such as health, water and sanitation, electricity, public food distribution,  and education. In addition to a sudden increase in the demand for existing services in the areas where the displaced settled down, the Iraqi state was also confronted with a new set of needs directly connected to the displacement that no national or local authority was equipped to immediately deliver. For example, the widespread occupation of public buildings and the emergence of informal settlements on the outskirts of Baghdad  are directly connected to the inability of the Iraqi State to offer displaced families alternative housing or shelter following their displacement. 
The rapid, large-scale population movement also put pressure on government sectors not directly involved in the provision of basic services. Central and local authorities in charge of providing people with official documents such as personal ID cards, residence permits, property documents and the cards giving access to the public food distribution system were now required to provide those documents to people that were new to their area of operations and formally registered elsewhere. Similarly, the rapid emergence of informal settlements in areas where no prior neighborhoods existed posed challenges for the security services which were now, at least in theory, required to deploy in areas where they had no or little prior presence.
Reports from the United Nations, IOM and a broad range of national and international NGOs all appear to agree that, today, a significant proportion of the internally displaced population continues to suffer from a lack of access to basic services.  This finding, however, needs to be understood in the wider context of Iraq today, where basic service delivery remains highly problematic also for the population as a whole.  While a more in-depth study is required to do a full comparison, available information does appear to suggest that the internally displaced population is somewhat worse off than the average Iraqi citizen, at least when it comes to access to basic services including shelter, food, water and sanitation, access to personal documents, and possibly education.  The fact that unemployment rates for the internally displaced population are above the national average also points towards a greater overall vulnerability for this population. 
Most displacement crises are eventually resolved through a combination of three “solutions”: return to the place of origin; integration into the local community; and resettlement in a place that is neither the place of origin, nor the place of displacement.  This will not be different in Iraq. The degree to which the end of displacement comes about through state policies and interventions or the private initiative of the affected populations differs from context to context based on the local situation as well as the local political and ideological preferences. There are a number of areas, however, that usually require some type of state intervention. Examples in Iraq include land and property issues and, especially, displacement- and return-related land and property disputes;  housing and shelter;  the regularization and upgrading of informal settlements;  the provision of assistance to repair or reconstruct damaged or destroyed houses;  and reconciliation, which is politically maybe the most complicated of all. Also important to highlight in this respect, is the need for the Iraqi state to create the right conditions and support for employment generation and sustained economic development. Indeed, increasing the economic opportunities for Iraq’s young and fast-growing population is not only the corner-stone for resolving displacement in Iraq but is also key to long-term peace and stability in the country. 
The Iraqi Government is already engaged in a number of the areas cited above. Examples include the establishment of the Property Claims Commission in 2004 to deal with land claims from displaced persons, covering the period from 1968 to March 2003,  and the enactment of Decree 262 and Orders 58 and 101. Decree 262 and Order 101 establish administrative support mechanisms for displaced persons who want to return to Baghdad, while Order 58 does the same for the Diyala Governorate.  A number of national policies with direct or indirect relevance for resolving internal displacement in Iraq have also been adopted by the former Government or the relevant line Ministries including the National Policy on Displacement;  the Iraq National Housing Policy;  and the Iraq National Development Plan for the years 2010–2014.  In addition, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration is currently developing a national shelter strategy, focusing specifically on internally displaced persons and returnees.
In the past years, also the international community has provided significant financial support towards addressing and resolving internal displacement in Iraq. The, by far, largest financial support came, and continues to come from the US Government. Outside the military budgets, donor funding has been provided by USAID/OFDA  for basic services, food security and recovery and the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) for specific aid for Iraqi refugees in the neighboring countries and the internally displaced population. In the period between 2003 and 2011, the US Government reports to have provided more than $2 billion humanitarian aid to Iraq through these two entities, focusing on vulnerable individuals including the internally displaced population and returnees.  At the level of the European Union (EU) there was an initial reluctance to pay for humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Iraq, despite the fact that between 1992 and 2003 the EU had been the largest single donor of humanitarian aid after the United Nations.  This was connected to the diverging positions amongst EU Member States about the US-led invasion of Iraq, including strong disagreement within the EU Council of Ministers about the legality of a war without explicit UN authorization.  Eventually, however, an emergency package of €100 Million was allocated to Iraq through the European Commission’s humanitarian arm ECHO still in 2003, although “an increasingly hostile environment prevented the implementation of many operations.”  Since then, the the EU has continued to provide funding support for programs assisting the internally displaced persons as well as returnees. 
Despite this ongoing engagement and policy initiatives, there is a broad sense that (much) more needs to be done to durably address the internal displacement file in Iraq. A recent report by the US Government Accountability Office, for example, criticizes the absence of an integrated national and international strategy for the reintegration of displaced persons in Iraq.  The title of another recent report this time by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre is self-explanatory: “Political wrangling leaves around 2.8 million displaced Iraqis with no durable solutions in sight.”  While the criticism is in part about policy gaps and missing legislation or executive decision, it is also about difficulties in policy implementation and the apparent challenges Iraqi institutions face in providing basic services, even with relevant policies and funding in place.
The widespread violence and conflict in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq has of course been one of the principal obstacles to the response to displacement, especially in the period between early 2006 and mid-2007.  In a period when bombings, killings, and abductions were part of daily life, Iraqi state institutions found it often near impossible to carry out their functions and access vulnerable population for assistance. As it was also in this period that the largest post-2003 forced population movements took place, it is not difficult to understand why the Iraqi State originally struggled to respond. Today, however, violence is much less of an adverse factor than it was, which is why it was not included in the set of challenges discussed here. Yet, it is nonetheless important to note that levels of insecurity remain high in certain parts of the country and that any upsurge in violence will of course have a significant adverse consequence on the displacement file in Iraq. 
One of the complexities of internal displacement in Iraq is that the country is not dealing with “one single displacement file” but instead needs to grapple with the consequences of at least three separate waves of displacement and return. These different waves of displacement and return occurred at different moments in time and have quite distinct political significance and meaning, but overlap in terms of problems and needs that need to be resolved or addressed.
The first large-scale population movement took place in the period immediately after the US-led invasion caused the Baath Party regime to collapse, and involved the victims of the former regime’s brutal social engineering policies. These policies forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as the regime sought to consolidate or strengthen its hold over Iraq and mete out punishments to communities suspected of being insufficiently loyal. It is estimated that from March 2003 until the end of 2005, around 500,000 of those displaced by the former regime returned to their places of origin, either from abroad or from elsewhere in Iraq.  While as such a positive development, this sudden return of large numbers of people also created a set of problems and challenges that Iraqi State continues to struggle with today. Moreover, this return movement also lay at the basis of the second post-2003 population movement. This new movement was made up of those who either were forced to flee by the returnees and, in some cases, their armed backers or decided to flee out of fear for what would happen once those displaced by the former regime would be back. An estimated 200,000 people became displaced in the period 2003–2005. 
The third displacement crisis the “new” Iraq has had to face was, by far, the largest and was, as already mentioned, triggered by the bombing of the Al-Askaria Mosque in Samarra in February 2006.  This third wave of displacement started to subside in the second half of 2007, and today new displacement due to violence has become a rare occurrence. Being forced to leave is no longer a threat hanging above Iraqi families, with the possible exception of Iraq’s small minorities, which remain vulnerable to targeted violence and forced displacement.  According to UNHCR, an estimated 550,000 Iraqis have returned home since 2008, the majority of them internally displaced persons. 
While these three displacement crises are connected to events and dynamics in Iraqi history that go back several decades, they also differ from one another in ways that have a significant impact on the Iraqi state’s response to each of them. Those differences are geographical, time-related, and political.
Geographically, the subsequent waves of displacement and return affected different areas of Iraq with different degrees of intensity and with quite a distinct set of consequences. As will be discussed further in the article, one of the key characteristics of the displacement file in Iraq is its regional diversity.  The fact that displacement and return occurred in distinct waves after 2003, with more or less identifiable start and end dates, meant that different institutional responses were developed at different moments in time, and hence from the viewpoint of the whole displacement file in Iraq now look somewhat disjointed and messy. It is the principal explanation as to why currently the type of available state support or assistance available to returnees or displaced persons depends in part upon the period when displacement or return occurred.
Differing political perceptions about the subsequent displacement and return movements also partly explain why not integrated approach to displacement and return currently exists. Simplified, those displaced by the former regime are regarded as victims requiring redress for past injustices while those displaced after 2006 are regarded primarily as vulnerable persons temporarily in need of humanitarian assistance. The political perceptions of those displaced between 2003 and 2006 are ambivalent, especially if their displacement relates to the return of those forcibly displaced by the former regime. Generalizing, sympathy for their plight is limited, sometimes accompanied by the lingering accusation that they brought their current situation upon themselves. 
The Iraqi State’s approach to displacement- and return-related land and property issues is a good example how these differences have translated into different types of measures in respect of what from a technical viewpoint are similar problems. One central issue in Iraq, as in many other places that have suffered from large-scale displacement, is how deal with the illegal occupation of the land and property left behind by the displaced population. In the Iraq context, this has occurred as a matter of state policy under the former regime and as a consequence of the breakdown of law and order and sectarian cleansing carried out by non-state actors especially in the period 2006-2007. The Iraqi state has provided a different response, depending on when the land and property was taken. Those who are victims of land and property takings by the former regime can request either restitution or compensation from the Property Claims Commission (PCC), established in 2004 to deal land and property rights violations that occurred in the period between 1968 and 2003.  Displaced families who lost their land or property after 2003, however, need to rely on the civil courts if they were displaced between 2003 and 2006 or the return centers established in the frame of Decree 262 and Order 101 if they were displaced between 2006 and 2008. 
The sequence of events played a role in this differentiated approach. When the PCC was established in 2004, nobody knew that more displacement and land and property rights violations were around the corner. Once the 2006–2007 displacement had occurred and it became clear that some displaced families had lost their home to armed groups, opportunity seekers or other displaced persons, political considerations also played a role in the decision to establish a separate system rather than extend the mandate of the PCC. One element in this decision was the strong feeling among decision-makers that the fundamental difference between the two instances of displacement and related land and property takings i.e., that one was sanctioned by the Iraqi State while the other was a consequence of violence and actions by non-state actors, necessitated a different institutional approach and solution.  From the viewpoint of resolving displacement, the problem is the same in both instances, i.e. how to ensure that displaced families get their land and property, hence possibly warranting the same solution. Looked at from a political perspective, however, both instances look quite different and addressing them in the same way no longer seems the logical thing to do.
There are some distinct disadvantages to not being able to have an integrated approach to internal displacement, including greater difficulties to coordinate, monitor and manage the resolution of internal displacement. Having more institutions, procedures, and approaches to deal with displacement- and return-related problems makes it more difficult to get a view of how the displacement file is evolving as a whole. This, in turn, makes it more complicated to identify with some precision where policies need to be adapted or changed. Moreover, the “slicing up” of the displaced and returning families into different categories that comes along with a differentiated approach also increases the risk of some families falling outside all assistance because they do not neatly fall into one of the official categories. The need to identify who falls into what category may also divert resources away from dealing with the actual problems that people face, independent from what precise category they fall into, and poses additional burdens on the displaced and returning families themselves.  Finally, a diversified approach also raises the issue of what to do with overlapping cases, an issue that is particularly pertinent when it comes to displacement-and return-related land and property issues. 
Maybe the biggest factor that continues to have an adverse impact on the institutional response to internal displacement and return in Iraq is the bad shape in which most, if not all Iraqi state institutions find themselves in. This is true, independent from whether they operate at the central, governorate or local level. Structural weaknesses affect all aspects of governmental institutions including the physical infrastructure, the staffing and the overall bureaucratic culture that civil servants need to work under. It is not an exaggeration to state that decades of neglect, sanctions and conflict have brought the Iraqi state institutions to their knees, thereby creating a situation that will take many years to recover from. 
The decline of Iraqi state institutions, which up until then had an excellent reputation all across the Middle East,  commenced in the 1980s, as a direct consequence of the Iran-Iraq war, which diverted resources and energy away from state institutions involved in the provision of basic services to the armed forces, the security sector and the war costs more broadly.  The invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the first Gulf War, and the international sanctions that were imposed on Iraq  further weakened the Iraqi state institutions and, with it, arguably the whole Iraqi society. For example, a background report written by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights back in 2000 on the impact of the sanctions speaks of “hospitals and health centers having largely remained without repair and maintenance,” with the functional capacity of the health care system having “degraded further due to shortages of water and power supply, lack of transportation and the collapse of the telecommunications system”.  The mismanagement and diversion of state funds by the Saddam Hussein regime further contributed to the overall deterioration.  It is against this background that the regime change, violence and conflict in the period between 2003 and 2007 came close to bringing about the collapse of the Iraqi state in its entirety.
In this calamitous period, a number of factors came together that further weakened the Iraqi state institutions. In the immediate aftermath of the victory of the US-led forces, the ensuing waves of unchecked looting further gutted the physical infrastructure of public administration, while the fleeing Baath Party cadres also thinned out the leadership of the state institutions.  A USAID report remarked that in April 2003, i.e. shortly after the collapse of the regime, a “near total vacuum existed in the ability of Iraqi institutions to provide basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity, solid waste collection and disposal, basically all local services delivered directly to the population”.  Some ill-advised decisions taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority under the leadership of Paul Bremer further contributed to the overall collapse of governmental authority and structures, including the disbandment of the national army (which in essence deprived the Iraqi state of its monopoly on violence, and hence lead to a broad perception of Iraqi state powerlessness);  and the sweeping de-Baathification which further deepened the crisis of leadership in key institutions, including those providing basic services. 
The institutions were also hard hit by the post-Samarra bombing violence and the ensuing large-scale displacement. The latter disproportionally affected the professional classes such as engineers, lawyers, teachers and medical doctors who formed the backbone of the state institutions and whom were frequently targeted by insurgents and criminal gangs alike. Sometimes they were abducted for ransom, while at other times they were killed because they represented the type of secular, technocratic society that extremists did not want to see in Iraq. It was thereby not lost on the insurgents that the professional class formed the least sectarian element in society and hence an obstacle to the instauration of an Islamic state or regime.  In these conditions, the sole solution was often to move away from home to elsewhere in Iraq or, frequently, another, in most cases, neighboring country. An estimated forty percent of Iraq’s professionals, including fifty percent of its doctors, had left the country by the end of 2007, leaving a vacuum in schools, hospitals, health care centers and other institutions that was impossible to fill in the short term.  As summarized in a recent World Bank report, emigration in Iraq was “heavily biased towards those that had the means to leave, not only financially, but who were also better educated, more skilled, and better connected in general”.  Finally, the increasingly sectarian nature of Iraqi politics also let to an increase in nominations based on communitarian loyalties rather than competencies. 
Given these developments, it is not difficult to understand why the Iraqi state institutions struggled with the extraordinary situation caused by the mass population movements following the fall of the former regime. With state buildings and installations in disrepair and often dilapidated; many of the senior administrators gone or about to leave; the legacy of a bureaucratic culture that was focused more on protecting the interests of the Iraqi state than serving the population; and the instability and insecurity especially in the period between 2006 and 2007, the odds were very much stacked against a rapid and effective reaction to internal displacement and return. Progress has undeniably been made since then, but these structural weaknesses will continue to play a role for many years to come.
One of the key characteristics of the Iraqi internal displacement crises is their regional distinctiveness. Internal displacement and return has impacted upon different governorates in different ways at different times. Figures of displaced persons and returnees vary considerably among governorates, and also depend upon what displacement wave or period one is talking about. For example, 6o percent of all post-2006 displacement took place in Baghdad, while other governorates experienced little or no post-2006 displacement at all.  The large-scale return movement that occurred in the period immediately after the fall of the regime, however, predominantly affected the Northern and Southern parts of Iraq, and much less Baghdad.  This diversity is further underscored by the fact that the socio-economic and political contexts also vary from governorate to governorate, in turn impacting the type of solutions that can really be found for displacement within the borders of each governorate. Finally, also the security situation is distinct from one place to another, in turn having a significant influence on the possibilities for return or local integration.
Also when it comes to the displaced population itself, significant regional difference exists regarding their intentions and preferences about how to end their current plight. Overall, 53 percent of the post-2006 internally displaced families that were assessed by the International Organization for Migration want to return to their areas of origin, while respectively 25 and 20 percent of this population prefers local integration or third country resettlement.  These national averages hide strong regional differences. Contrary to national preferences, internally displaced families in the Southern parts of Iraq see local integration as the favored durable solution. Over 40 percent of these families wish to integrate locally, with peaks at 76 percent in Basra and 61 percent in Dhi-Qar. 
These significant regional and local differences indicate that any policy to resolve displacement needs to contain governorate-specific measures and elements. They also suggest that a top-to-bottom, one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to be the best way forward for finding durable solutions to internal displacement in Iraq. The challenge, however, is that the reality of Iraqi political decision-making and the prevailing corporate culture in Iraqi state institutions renders a diversified, regionalized approach more difficult to achieve.
The starting point, in this respect is that a high level of centralization characterized Iraq’s system of government during the decades of Baath Party rule, with ministries located in Baghdad having full control and decision-making power over the identification of priorities and the allocation of funds at the local level.  During this long period, the role of local administrators was essentially limited to implementing the decisions taken in the capital city. As a consequence, when the Baath Party regime fell in 2003, “local governments lacked the power and capacity to plan, which translated in the quasi absence of the practices currently recognized as essential features of good local governance”.  Since that time, Iraq has been engaged in deep structural reforms including the adoption of a federal system and a model of decentralized political and administrative governance through the devolution of authority to the Governorates.  As would have been expected even if the transition would have been less affected by conflict and violence, this transformation remains, however, far from complete at both the legislative and the implementation level.
At the legislative level, Law No. 21 of 2008 concerning the Governorates not incorporated into a region is a good example of the fact that decentralization in Iraq remains a work in progress. Intended to provide teeth to the decentralized structures foreseen in the 2005 Constitution, a first observation is that the Law in fact appears to scale back some of the Constitution’s decentralizing provisions, thereby underscoring how powerful the centralizing tendencies remain within the system.  In terms of its broad content, a recent report from UNDP estimates that the Law forms “an initial basis for the empowerment of local governance institutions in Iraq”, but fails to provide “comprehensive guidance to establish an effective and efficient decentralized system”.  A key issue ― highly relevant for the response to regionally diverse displacement crises – is that the Law does not give governorate councils “any leverage to influence the planning and resources allocation of line ministries through which the vast majority of services are provided.”  The upshot of this is that technical departments providing basic services like water, electricity, health, sanitation and others “continue to receive their directives and budgets allocations from their respective ministries in Baghdad.”  The Law then, leaves only very limited freedom of action at Governorate level and hence for Governorate-specific policies. As the UNDP report observes, local council can identify problems but “depend on others to take action” and have no means to oblige them to take such action. 
These, from a decentralization point of view, shortcomings in the legal framework are further reinforced by the corporate culture that prevails in most, if not all, Iraqi state administrations. Decades of authoritarian rule –when individual initiative and decision-making were not encouraged and often could be outright dangerous for the civil servant in question- have left institutions with a broadly risk-averse and strongly hierarchic working culture in which even small decisions need to wait for approval from the central leadership. Moreover, an assessment carried out in 2007 found that, within context of the ongoing decentralization process, basic service delivery was seriously hampered by “the use of outdated management techniques;” “the lack of coordination mechanisms;” and “the fact that the vast majority of Iraqi civil servants have never been exposed to many of the modern advances in governance, municipal service provision and decentralized decision making.”  It found that the work of local administrations is further hindered by “the limited availability and usage of modern technologies”; “the absence of motivation due to low wages;” “no established merit-based systems for recruitment and promotion”; and, finally, “external pressures and political interventions in the administration.” 
Taken together with a broad unfamiliarity of how a decentralized system should work amongst local civil servants and politicians alike and a deeply ingrained habit of the central authorities in Baghdad to take decisions without much consultation of those working on the ground, it becomes clear that a truly diversified and localized approach to internal displacement and return in Iraq will take time to develop. Progress is being made ― the integrated approach to resolving displacement in the Diyala Governorate is a most promising example  ―but the overall picture remains one of a centralized system that takes decisions with only limited consideration for the strong local differences on the ground when it comes to displacement and return.
A recurring debate in contexts of large-scale internal displacement crises is whether or not the creation of new national institutions is needed for addressing and resolving those crises. Depending on the context and the role and responsibilities that form the topic of discussion ― leadership, coordination, implementation or a combination of all three – a variety of arguments in favor are commonly deployed. Civil society actors and human rights groups, for example, frequently promote the idea that a dedicated agency or institution is required to ensure that the displaced and their needs remain on the political agenda until durable solutions are found. Another recurring concern is that large-scale internal displacement often creates new needs and challenges that no existing state institution is equipped to deal with and that hence require the creation of a new institution to work on those. The fact that responding to internal displacement frequently requires the involvement of multiple actors and hence pose a significant coordination challenge can be another reason to consider the establishment of a new institution or (coordination) body. Finally, the establishment of a dedicated “displacement agency” can also be a good way for a Government to express and communicate its political commitment to taking care of the displaced and the displacement crisis. While there is no ideal solution that can be applied in all contexts, the Iraqi experience serves as a reminder that there are certain drawbacks to setting up new institutional frameworks to deal with internal displacement.
In Iraq, two new institutions were established: the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) and the already mentioned Property Claims Commission.  It was the Coalition Provisional Authority that took the initial decision to establish the MoDM, which was given the authority to deal with “all matters pertaining to Iraqi refugees and displaced persons, including but not limited to matters associated with their repatriation, relocation, resettlement and reintegration.”  Within this broad mandate, the MoDM was expected to both develop and implement the necessary policy interventions. The MoDM was carried over into the first post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi Government and continues to operate today. Since its creation in 2004, the MoDM has been engaged in a broad range of activities and initiatives, including the registration of internally displaced persons;  the development of a national policy on internal displacement;  and participation in the provision of assistance to returnees in Baghdad and the Diyala Governorates, also through the establishment of so-called “returnees centers.”  The MoDM has, to some extent, also played a coordinating role in respect of the overall response effort to internal displacement in Iraq.
Under the former Government, the MoDM was frequently criticized for a variety of shortcomings, often focusing on its limited capacity for implementation and coordination and its insufficient effectiveness and reactivity to the needs of the displaced and the returnees. While an in-depth assessment to identify what the MoDM could have done better would certainly be useful, it is also clear that some of what has been complained of is directly connected to MoDM’s “newness”. For example, it is almost inevitable that a new institution will take considerable time to become fully operational, especially in a country in transition like Iraq where also the broader state structure is in flux and resources are scarce and hard to come by (not to mention the extremely challenging security situation in the initial years of MoDM’s existence). Everything is new and everything needs to be created, hired or put in place, including the necessary physical infrastructure; suitable staff; and basic operating rules and procedures.
An additional hindrance related to being a new institution, and one that certainly has hindered the Property Claims Commission in its initial years, is that other, already existing institutions often tend to react quite negatively towards new institutions, especially if they are established to deal with high-profile issues that are likely to attract significant budgets (budgets which will hence not be available for existing institutions). Inter-institutional relationships may be further complicated if the new institution is seen as benefitting disproportionally from international support, including foreign exposure trips, trainings and workshops. Also the lack of knowledge about the mandate and role of the new institutions amongst other civil servants and the absence of rules, protocols or even focal persons to deal with the new institution may hamper its integration into the overall state structure and hence its ability to carry-out its mandate. In such circumstances, a lot will depend on the political prominence of the leadership of the new institution: if it lacks political power, then the start-up time of the new institution will tend to be even longer.
It is speculation at this point whether the Iraqi response to the displacement crises would have been different, for better or worse, without new institutions having been created for this purpose. More empirical research is needed in this respect, but there are sufficient indications that the use of new institutions also has had negative effects, which will need to be weighted against the benefits.  One consideration, in this respect, is that such research also should look at the long-term impact of the significant international support provided to the MoDM and the Property Claims Commission to determine whether the impact of this international support would have been greater had it been provided to existing institutions that will continue to function also after the displacement file has been resolved.
The fact that in Iraq the displacement and return crises are also closely intertwined with broader political struggles amongst (but also within) different communities has further complicated the institutional response to those crises. The Kirkuk and Ninewa Governorates are probably the two places where the response has suffered the most from the highly politicized nature of displacement and return, but there are others, albeit less extreme examples as well.  A useful distinction can be made between governorates where the connection between displacement/return and sectarian competition exist at the “macro-level” and governorates where this exists only at the “micro-level.” In the former, the central issue is the political control over the Governorate (e.g.,Kirkuk) while in the latter it is more control and influence over certain neighborhoods, villages or specific areas (e.g., Baghdad).
In the Kirkuk and Ninewa Governorates,  most, if not all, political actors view return and internal displacement primarily through the prism of the future communitarian make-up of their Governorate and, by extension, the balance of political power between the different communities. Given the high politicization of displacement and return there, state institutions involved in the provision of assistance to returnees or displaced persons face two challenges. On the one hand, they quickly become vulnerable to accusations of partiality, as assistance to members of one community will be perceived by members of the other community as taking position on the larger question of who should, and who should not live in the particular Governorate. On the other hand, the political pressures on the institutions to direct support to one rather than another group of displaced or returning families belonging to the “right” community, tend to be considerable, potentially undermining those institutions’ impartiality. In addition, access to services and institutions by displaced or returning families can further be hindered by perceptions of real or imagined institutional bias and the belief that “they will not be assisted” as they are from the wrong group. Finally, policies developed by Baghdad to address displacement- and return-related may simply not be implemented if they are perceived as going against the interest of this or that important communitarian political group. In both Governorates, it is difficult to see how the displacement file can move forward without having an overall political agreement about power-sharing in place. At the same time, a political agreement that does not include a solution for those that were displaced or returned to those Governorates is unlikely to work in the long run.
In Governorates were the displacement file is connected to sectarian competition at the micro-level, similar challenges can exist, but then at a much more localized level. One unresolved issue, however, is the extent to which the Iraqi Government is intent on trying to reverse the sectarian homogenization that accompanied post-2006 displacement, especially in Baghdad. It is quite instructive to look at maps showing the communitarian make-up of Baghdad’s principal neighborhoods before and after the displacement of 2006-2007 so as to get a sense of what institutional and political challenge it would be to return to a situation resembling the pre-2006 communitarian make-up.  This is a much broader topic that falls well outside the scope of this article, but a decision to try and reverse some of the sectarian homogenization that occurred in the past years would need considerable thought also on the institutional side.
Looking towards the future, it seems almost certain that some of the obstacles discussed in this article will continue to hinder the response to displacement for some time to come. This is especially the case for the structural issues affecting state institutions and governance more broadly. Progress is possible ― and the pressures exerted by the recent demonstrations in Iraq for an improvement of basic services may well accelerate positive change in this respect ― but experience elsewhere shows that a deep reform of the state and its institutions takes many years, if not decades, to accomplish.
In addition, Iraq also faces an overwhelming plethora of other challenges. They include, first of all, continued political stability, which at this point, is in no way a given. A recent statement of the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the US House of Representatives underscores how just many issues could spell trouble in this respect. The Statement highlights “lingering ethnic and sectarian tensions;” disputed internal boundaries and Arab-Kurd and Sunni-Shia fault lines;” “new and fragile democratic institutions” as well as “neighbors looking to exercise undue influence within Iraq” among factors that threaten Iraq’s progress at the political level.  But even with the political process staying on track, the list of things the Iraqi State needs to accomplish in the coming years is daunting: bringing basic service delivery back up to an acceptable standard and dramatically increasing quality in education and health care; overhauling the existing, outdated approach to social welfare and poverty alleviation;  establishing the conditions for rapid economic growth and, especially, employment generation; fighting some armed groups and demobilizing and integrating others; and bringing about real national reconciliation. The list is long, and more could be added.
Against this background, the political interest in the displacement file is likely to wane over time, as attention and energies become more or more focused on the overall reconstruction and development of Iraq, economically, socially, politically and, of course, security-wise. This holds true at both the national and international level. Regarding the latter, this is likely to be a consequence of a shift from humanitarian aid and emergency reconstruction to medium- to long-term development plans and support.  This decreasing focus on internal displacement may or may not be a good thing, but it is probably wise to keep it in mind when planning or advocating policy interventions related to the displacement file in Iraq. Moreover, the multiple priority needs the Iraqi State faces also raises the question to what extent there is sufficient energy and capacity within the state apparatus to manage a displacement file alongside a real effort to fulfill those needs. Is it feasible to imagine the state running separate, dedicated programs to deal with the specific needs of the displaced and the returnees or are such programs likely to remain at the level of good intentions only? There is no straightforward answer to these concerns, but two concrete ways forward could be considered in this respect.
The first has to do with the issue of allowing local governments to be more pro-active in addressing the specific displacement- and return-related challenges their governorates face. As explained earlier, the current legal framework leaves those governments with little leeway to resolve the problems they observe, with a lack of access to dedicated funding being one of the principal obstacles. While, ultimately, the Governorates will need to be rendered more autonomous through a change of law, this is unlikely to happen in the near future. One interim measure could be the establishment of a “national displacement fund” that would allow local governments to obtain direct funding for projects intended to address displacement- and return-related problems in their governorates. This fund could be managed by the Iraq Government in conjunction with an international partner and given a limited life span of for example five years. It could be financed through the ordinary state budget, with additional funds coming from international donors such as the US or the European Union.  Provided it is managed in a flexible and non-bureaucratic manner, a national displacement fund would provide local governorates with rapid access to money to tackle issues like for example, the lack of shelter for displaced or returning families and the need to create livelihood opportunities for this population. Where available local capacity would be insufficient, local governments could call upon international partners for support with the implementation of the projects they designed. Finally, the use of the fund could be connected and coordinated with efforts to improve the functioning of the public sector (e.g., by setting the development and implementation of a staff capacity building program as a condition for the use of the fund by local administrations). 
The second way forward is to ensure that, in all social policies that will be developed in the near future, displaced and returning families are included as target groups to the extent that they comply with applicable vulnerability criteria. The past few years have seen some missed opportunities in this respect, with one example being the recent national housing policy which pays only indirect attention to the impact of mass displacement and return on the housing situation in Iraq.  While it contains a brief section on the upgrading of informal settlements ― which at least around Baghdad house a high concentration of displaced families ― it remains silent on how the particularities of displacement should be dealt with in the context of such upgrading. The consequence is that the new Iraqi Government has now been obliged to start developing a specific shelter policy for the displaced population where one, integrated policy would probably have stood a better change of successful implementation. International donors could play a role here, as they are often funding or otherwise supporting the development of this type of national policies. The routine integration of displacement and return into “ordinary” social policies would at least to some extent protect the affected populations against the future waning of interest in displacement file as such.