BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of Iraqis have returned to the western city of Ramadi three months after Iraqi troops backed by U.S.-led airstrikes drove the Islamic State group out of the provincial capital, the city's mayor said Sunday.
The returning families must go through security checks and are only allowed to return to areas cleared of mines and booby traps left behind by the extremists, Mayor Ibrahim al-Osaj said.
Suspected members of the Islamic State group wait to be taken for interrogation after being found among civilians returning to Ramadi for the first time since the city was taken back by Iraqi government forces earlier this year, in Ramadi, Iraq, Sunday, April 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
IS militants seized Ramadi last May and held the town until they were driven out in December. As in other cities and towns in Syria and Iraq, the fight to retake Ramadi demolished large parts of the city. Al-Osaj said seven neighborhoods are still off-limits to residents, not only because of the presence of explosives, but because the areas are "totally ruined."
He said authorities have restored drinking water for almost 80 percent of the city, refurbished ten schools and provided up to 600 caravans for those who can't use their houses. He said around 12,000 families have returned since late last month.
Iraqi state TV aired a video showing the Head of Sunni Religious Endowments, Sheik Abdul-Latif al-Himaim, leading a convoy of dozens of cars into the city.
In late February, the U.N. mission in Iraq said that bombs were hindering the return of displaced families to Ramadi, killing some residents who were surveying their homes or attempting to disable devices inside the city.
More than 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes in Iraq since January 2014, according to the United Nations. It estimates that an additional 3 million people are living in areas controlled by IS, which still holds much of northern and western Iraq, including the country's second-largest city, Mosul.