Sectarian cleansing sweeping Iraq

IRAQ: 1,000 Iraqis are being driven from their homes daily by sectarian violence, writes Michael Jansen

IRAQ: 1,000 Iraqis are being driven from their homes daily by sectarian violence, writes Michael Jansen

Three years after Baghdad was occupied by US troops, at least 1,000 Iraqis are being driven from their homes daily by sectarian violence. Iraq's ministry of displacement and migration estimates that more than 40,000 have become internal refugees since the bombing of the Shia Askariya mosque at Samarra on February 22nd.

If this rate is sustained, 365,000 Iraqis could become refugees by this time next year. Ministry spokesman Sattar Nawruz observed: "We now have sectarian problems never seen in Iraq before."

Most sectarian cleansing is taking place in Baghdad and the central region, but it is spreading southwards. Many mixed neighbourhoods in the capital are now inhabited by members of only one community. According to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, the homeless find refuge with relatives or in unused government buildings, football fields, schools, mosques and temporary shelters.

Towns and villages throughout this region are also being emptied of members of local minorities who go to Baghdad or areas inhabited by their own communities.

Six hundred Sunni refugees are sheltering in Tikrit, 8,000 Shias are living in camps in the Shia holy city of Najaf and 3,000 Shias have fled to Samawa and Kut.

Unknown numbers of refugees from both sects are living with relatives or tribesmen in areas considered safe for their sect.

Thousands of Christians have fled Mosul, a largely Sunni city, and Basra, which has a Shia majority; some have gone to Baghdad, many to exile in Syria.

In addition to those displaced by sectarian attacks and threats, thousands of Sunnis have been made homeless by US-led offensives against the cities of Falluja, Samarra, Baquba, and Tal Afar as well as villages and settlements along the border with Syria. Most have settled in makeshift camps near their homes.

Ethnic cleansing is taking place in the north. More than 200,000 Sunni and Shia Arabs and Turkomen have been forced from their homes in and around the oil city of Kirkuk where Kurds are being resettled by Kurdish political parties and militia.

Sectarian and ethnic separation poses major problems for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have married spouses from different communities and their millions of children. The majority of such unions are between Sunnis and Shias.

Mixed couples expelled from their homes and neighbourhoods have difficulty in finding refuge with either community. Extremists urge such couples to divorce and often threaten violence if they refuse. Their children are suffering serious psychological problems.

The most insidious forced migration is of doctors, teachers and academics. Scores of doctors, 317 teachers and education ministry officials and 182 university lecturers have been murdered since the occupation, precipitating a mass exodus of 2,000 physicians and thousands of other professionals needed to rebuild the country's health and education system.

Egyptian, Sudanese, and Syrian residents of Iraq are also under attack and 185 Palestinians are camping out on the border with Jordan which refuses to grant them entry. Up to 34,000 Palestinians are living in Baghdad under threat of death and been told to leave. But no country is ready to receive them.

The Geneva-based International Migration Organisation (IOM) has taken charge of distri- buting emergency supplies of food, tents, and utensils. Fourteen temporary camps have been established countrywide. The IOM is seeking $10 million to finance a 12-month emergency programme.

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