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The Exodus: 1.6m Iraqi’s Have Fled Their Country
By Patrick Cockburn
For the full story, go to The Independent: 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.

Rich and poor, both are vulnerable. “I’ll need more than five bodyguards if I am to live in Baghdad ,” said one political leader who has left Iraq . “The police came to my antiques shop and drove me around Baghdad ,” said an antique dealer from the formerly well-off district of Mansur. “They wanted money or they’d charge me with illegal traffic in antiques. I gave them $5,000 [£2,650] in cash, closed my shop and went with my brother to Jordan the same night. I haven’t been back.”

All sorts of Iraqis are on the run. But the Christian minorities from Karada and Doura in Baghdad are also fast disappearing. Most of their churches are closed. Many leave the country while the better off try to rent expensive houses in Ain Kawa, a Christian neighbourhood in Arbil.

Nobody feels safe. Some 70,000 Kurds have taken flight from the largely Sunni Arab city of Mosul . Among their cruelest persecutors are Arabs, settled in Kurdish areas by Saddam Hussein over the past 30 years, who were in turn expelled by returning Kurds after the US invasion in 2003. In Basra , the great Shia city of the south, Sunni are getting out after a rash of assassinations.

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.

Flight often brings a host of difficulties with it. Much of the Iraqi population is unemployed and depends on state-funded rations bought from a single, local grocery shop. A refugee in Baghdad cannot go to another shop even if he has taken up residence elsewhere. The lumbering state bureaucracy only shows flexibility on receipt of a bribe. Sometimes a man may move out of a district but still have his job there which he dare not give up (60 per cent of Iraqis are unemployed); 10 days ago, 14 Shia workers from the Shia town of Balad north of Baghdad were found with their throats cut in the nearby Sunni town of Dhuluiya where they had been working. In retaliation the Shias of Balad hunted down and killed 38 Sunnis.

An e-mail from a Sunni friend in Baghdad that I received in April is worth quoting in full. It reads in shaky English: “Yesterday the cousin of my step brother (as you know my father married two) killed by Badr [Shia militia] troops after three days of arresting and his body found thrown in the trash of al-Shula district. He is one of three people who were killed after heavy torture. They did nothing but they are Sunni people among the huge number of Shia people in the General Factory for Cotton in al-Qadamiyah district … His family couldn’t recognise his face but by the big wart on his left arm.”

There is the total breakdown of law and order. Kidnappings are rife. Businessmen pay for the assassination of their rivals. Sunni militants kill women wearing trousers and men wearing shorts.

Rival Shia militias fight pitched battles for control of oilfields. American soldiers often shoot at anything. No wonder so many Iraqis have left their homes or fled their country.