Monday, October 23, 2006
By Patrick Cockburn
"Iraq is in flight. Everywhere inside and outside the country, Iraqis who once lived in their own houses cower for safety six or seven to a room in hovels.
Many go after they have been threatened. Often they leave after receiving an envelope with a bullet inside and a scrawled note telling them to get out immediately. Others flee after a relative has been killed, believing they will be next.
Out of the population of 26 million, 1.6 million Iraqis have fled the country and a further 1.5 million are displaced within Iraq, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In Jordan alone there are 500,000 Iraqi refugees and a further 450,000 in Syria. In Syria alone they are arriving at the rate of 40,000 a month.
It is one of the largest long-term population movements in the Middle East since Israel expelled Palestinians in the 1940s. Few of the Iraqis taking flight now show any desire to return to their homes. The numbers compelled to take to the roads have risen dramatically this year with 365,000 new refugees since the bombing of the Shia shrine in Samara in February.
Baghdad is breaking up into a dozen different cities, each under the control of its own militia. In Shia areas this usually means the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr. In Sunni districts it means that the insurgents, who are also at war with the Americans, are taking over. The Sunnis control the south and south-west; the Shias the north and east."