On June 15, five days after the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS) occupied the Iraqi province of Ninevah, Baghdad International Airport was jammed with passengers. The worsening situation prompted families to flee Baghdad, especially after the armed group announced its desire to occupy the capital.
With the rapid fall of Ninevah, now in the hands of insurgents, Baghdad’s residents are voicing great fear that attacks will be launched on the capital. On June 15, after Muhammad Naeem shouted at an employee of Iraqi Airways because of a three-hour delay of his journey to Erbil, the employee responded, “We are facing increasing pressure, and there is nothing I can do.” Naeem's family members, who were very nervous, had to wait at the airport.
Naeem bought a small apartment in Erbil three years ago in anticipation of another civil war in Iraq — the previous one having ended in 2008. He hails from a Sunni family and fears the return of militias to the streets, especially after Shiite religious leader Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa promoting “righteous jihad” to fight IS. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Naeem said this meant that the civil war had already started.
An employee in the Department of Statistics at the Ministry of Displacement and Migration in Baghdad said in an interview with Al-Monitor, “Work is degenerating to the worst [level], as internal and external migration has dramatically increased after the Mosul events. Turkey is the primary destination for those fleeing Iraq, followed by Jordan and Lebanon.”
The employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “The ministry expects the migration of Iraqis to increase in the coming weeks, and the security and political situation suggest the same.”
Jordan's interior minister, Hussein Hazza Majali, said, “The demand for visas from Iraqis has doubled," and asserted that “land transport between the two countries declined by half after the accelerated security events in Iraq.”
The worsening security situation in Iraq has resulted in the displacement of more than 500,000 families from Ninevah, as well as the movement of families from Anbar province, which has witnessed military operations since the end of last year.
Ali Niazi, the owner of a travel agency in the province of Basra in the far south of Iraq, told Al-Monitor that there is “a sharp rise in the demand of tickets to the Kurdistan Region (of Iraq), Turkey and Jordan.” He said, “Those booking for Erbil and Sulaimaniyah will have to wait for more than a month, [because] we do not have seats. The number of flights have increased to five a day, where they were previously limited to two, [but] we cannot accommodate the number of passengers.”
Niazi, who increased his working hours from eight to 12 because of the demand for tickets, said, “Most travelers book one-way tickets to Turkey,” and jokingly added, “Turkey has turned into an Iraqi province.”
He said, “Some of the travel offices have taken advantage of this demand for tickets and doubled their prices." This prompted Iraqi Airways to issue new regulations and sanction travel companies that raise ticket prices. However, “These instructions have not been applied yet,” Niazi said.