Iraq conflict leaves at least 130,000 displaced

Published: Monday, June 26, 2006, 19:08 [IST]
 

BAGHDAD, June 26 (Reuters) Iraq's sectarian violence of the past four months has pushed the number of displaced people to above 130,000, parliament heard today as members urged ministers to give more aid and security to contain the crisis.

''There should be more field visits to understand their plight,'' Sunni Arab parliamentarian Dhafir al-Ani told the assembly. ''The government should take direct steps and provide security for displaced families, including at their camps.'' Iraq's Ministry of Displaced and Migration now puts the number of internal refugees at 130,386, or 21,731 families, its spokesman Sattar Nowruz said.

The number of registered displaced has climbed by as much as 30,000 in the last month, according to ministry statistics.

The actual figure must be higher as many thousands go uncounted, quietly seeking refuge with relatives or heading abroad. It seems hardly no-one in Baghdad does not have a friend, relative or neighbour who has had to move in fear.

Already a problem due to the violence and anarchy of recent years, the crisis deepened after the February 22 bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine in the town of Samarra set off reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of sectarian civil war.

The problem has been likened to the ''ethnic cleansing'' of the Balkans in the 1990s and few expect a quick solution.

Sectarian violence, which kills dozens of people a day in Baghdad alone, has started to force demographic shifts, with Shi'ites and Sunnis fleeing for safer areas made up of their own sect.

Mixed neighbourhoods are breaking apart.

Some fear the Tigris river, between mainly Shi'ite east and Sunni west Baghdad, could become a front-line akin to Beirut's 1980s ''Green Line'' if new Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fails to stop the sectarian killings.

RECONCILIATION PLAN He presented a national reconciliation plan to parliament yesterday which was long on promises but short on details of exactly how he would tackle sectarian violence.

Baghdad, a melting pot for Iraqis of all sects and ethnic groups, has started to witness an exodus, especially among Sunnis fleeing north and Shi'ites escaping south.

Iraqis from other areas are also heading to Baghdad to escape sectarian violence which rages as Sunni Arab insurgents wage a bloody campaign against the Shi'ite-led government.

Haidar al-Ibadi, head of a parliamentary committee on the displaced, said the panel was weighing several measures to ensure that people don't flee their districts.

''In order not to change the demographics, the government should keep people in their same areas and provide security so they don't leave,'' he said.

Ibadi said 70 per cent of the displaced are Shi'ites and most of the rest Sunni. But he did note that the conflict had also hit others, with 800 Kurdish and 90 Christian families joining the internally displaced in the last four months.

Christian groups say many tens of thousands from a community estimated at several hundred thousand have fled the country as a result of violence and growing Muslim antipathy since the war.

REUTERS SHR KN1817


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