Page 2 of 7
According to the most recent “Cluster ‘F’ Update” (I kid you not)—a biweekly compilation of the most recent information on IDPs within Iraq collected by the UNHCR—in the 16-month period between February 2006 and June 2007, a total of 1,011,870 Iraqis were displaced. A regional breakdown of “newly displaced” families during that same period shows 25,368 families displaced from northern Iraq, 78,984 from central Iraq, and 64,645 families from the south—almost 170,000 families forced from their homes.
A further breakdown shows that after 2006, 47 percent of IDPs originated in central Iraq, with approximately 180,000 from Baghdad alone. Another 38 percent originated in the south, and 15 percent in the north. Since 2006, says Raman, “we have been witnessing massive movements out of Iraq’s major urban areas, mostly in central Iraq.”
RUNNING FROM SADDAM
Most of the violence in Iraq at the beginning of the invasion tended to be politically based. After the Samarra bombing, religious divisions seemed to manifest as the root cause of the violence being perpetrated in a country where, if you ask Iraqis, there was general tolerance and acceptance of the “other.” Many did not care to ask if one was Shiite or Sunni, and intermarriage between the sects was common. With most of today’s violence targeting the urban centers with the clear intent of debilitating them through terror—areas that were suffering from infrastructure collapse long before the invasion in 2003—it appears likely that whoever is planning the violence is simply adding fuel to a fire that was already burning. These
previously weakened areas did not, and still do not, have sufficient supplies to maintain municipal networks. The sewer system in Sadr City, Baghdad’s poorest district, was in dire need of repair before Coalition troops set foot in Iraq. Use of generators was a daily event in many places, and unemployment, now reportedly risen to astronomical proportions, was already high under Saddam.
The largest group of displaced in the pre–February 2006 time period, says Raman, is actually the pre-2003 displaced—those who fled or were forced from their homes under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Th e main reasons for this displacement, according to the latest Cluster “F” Update, were “human rights abuses” and “internal conflict along political, religious, and ethnic lines”; additional factors would include the Iran-Iraq War and, later, the Gulf War—the aftermath of which saw Saddam retaliate against the 1991 Shiite uprising in the south by attempting to destroy their economic livelihood, purposely draining the southern Mesopotamian marshes and horribly suppressing the Shiite population. “Construction of dams in central Iraq; competition over land and natural resources; as well as pursuit of Saddam’s ‘Arabisation’ policies” were also reasons for mass movements of Iraqis. The Arabisation policies included the infamous Anfal genocide, which took place between February and September of 1988 and saw a military campaign move from the southeastern section of the Kurdish north to the northwest in six months, clearing the land by killing tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians and Peshmerga—the Kurdish guerilla organization that now constitutes Kurdistan’s military force (which is doing a remarkable job of providing security in the north)—and then enticing
Arab tribespeople to move there via relocation subsidies. According to Raman, “The pre-2003 displaced were, prior to the current conflict, mostly arising out of human rights abuses in northern and southern Iraq. They are estimated at 1.2 million and represent IDPs coming out of Anfal and the draining of the marshes.”
RUNNING, RETURNING, AND DESPERATE TO LEAVE
A second, smaller group of pre–February 2006 displaced came from the movement of people between 2003 and 2006—families leaving as a result of time-bound or predictable military operations where people were given “time frames to vacate and then reenter urban areas. This was the movement out of Falluja and Ramadi,” says Raman, where the US advised residents to leave before they began their attack on insurgents. “The overwhelming majority of them have returned to their homes.”