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IRAQ: 1,200,000 refugees


IRAQ: More than 300,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since Saddam's fall

BAGHDAD, 12 October (IRIN) - More than 300,000 Iraqis have fled their homes to other parts of Iraq to escape violence since the 2003 fall of former President Saddam Hussein, with the rate swelling in the past six months of sectarian Shiite-Sunni conflict, Minister of Immigration and Displacement, Abdul-Samad Sultan said Tuesday.

In addition, some 890,000 Iraqis have moved to Jordan, Iran and Syria since Saddam's fall, Sultan, told reporters at a press conference in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

"We had hoped that the situation would help us after Saddam's fall. But unfortunately, the plans of the Saddamists and the terrorists have shaken the new Iraq," Sultan said. "This is the goal of the terrorists, to create [separate] Shiite and Sunni pockets and change the demographics of Iraq."

Hamid Jassim Jaber, a 55-year-old Shi'ite retired teacher, was forced along with his three daughters and wife to flee to the previous Ba'ath party headquarters in Najaf after two masked gunmen stopped him and told him to leave his Baghdad's western neighbourhood of Ghazaliya "or have your head chopped off".

"We are victims of something we have nothing to do with," Jaber said. " We call upon the government to secure our return to our homes and not to forget us like that."

The largest number of displaced families is from Karbala, in the south, at about 6,700. Second in the list is the capital Baghdad at 6,600. While 4,983 people have relocated to Wasit; 4,797 to Diyala; 4,074 to Mosul; 4,000 to Najaf; 3,955 to Missan; 3,365 to Babib and 3,100 to Nassiriya.

The soaring figures are solidifying the sectarian divide in this country of around 30 million people. Those who moved within Iraq went to areas where their own community dominates ľ Shi'ites leaving Sunni-majority or mixed areas for Shi'ite ones and vice-versa - he said.

Statistics released by the ministry show that 51,037 families have fled their homes to move to another part of Iraq. Sultan said the ministry assumes an average of six people per family, putting the number at 306,222 people.

Sultan said at least half of them fled their homes after the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the city of Samarra that sparked a wave of Shiite retaliations against Sunnis, then a mounting spiral of killings between both sides that has left thousands dead.

The ministry tries to set up displaced people in areas close to their home regions so as not to encourage the sectarian segregation of the country. The ministry provides tents and food supplies.

"The government has to take serious measures to stop this phenomenon [of sectarian segregation]," said Salim Mohammed Ali, a volunteer with the Iraqi Red Crescent (IRC) in Najaf. "Dedicating money and supplying food, tents and medicine is not the solution.A real crisis will develop as winter approaches, although we have enough supplies," he said.

"The government has to help the displaced families to return to their homes by tackling the reasons behind this phenomena [of displacement]. The number of these families is increasing daily and that means the government is unable to offer security for these families in their homes," Ali added.

:: Article nr. 27417 sent on 13-oct-2006 10:19 ECT


Link: www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/0f4e49236e6dc924ae5bd381264c7de5.htm

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