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< Back to Iraqi Dinar in the News August 24th, 2007

Arabs flood safest city in Iraq

Rich and poor, educated and illiterate, Arabs are fleeing the killing fields of Iraq to settle among and take charity from Kurds so brutally repressed by the former regime.

On a dirty stretch of disused land in the mountain city of Sulaimaniyah next to a bypass, scores of families are eeking out an impoverished existence on aid handouts, living like sardines under canvas or in makeshift shacks.

Thaer Mahjoub Aziz, a father of nine and former farmer who sends his children to beg for food, slammed Iraq's Shiite-dominated government for ignoring Iraqis displaced within the country while refugees abroad got all the headlines.

"They're always speaking about reconciliation. But what reconciliation? They did nothing, not even for us homeless people. They only care about themselves.

"They spoke about the people in Syria and Jordan but not about the people displaced inside Iraq," he thunders, furiously waving his monthly ration card, saying that he and none of the other families can collect their food here.

He has shacked up in the mud with a ragtail bunch from Diyala, a province engulfed with fighting, bombings and execution-style shootings, mostly farmers who left behind land, livestock and homes to live in penury.

Children patter around barefoot in torn clothes. One girl plays hopscotch in the muck. One mother is pregnant, destined to give birth -- like other women in the camp -- alone without help.

"We have no clothes for our children. Sometimes we cook rice. Anything that's available. We have no vegetables. We have nothing. We're in desperate need of help," says Um Duaa, her face blackened by the sun.

"In the last year and a half, 3,672 families -- about 18,500 people -- have come to Sulaimaniyah. Plus we have 12,000 unmarried Iraqis here looking for work," says the Kurdish city's chief statistician Mahmud Othman.

He says 70 percent of all newcomers are Sunni Arabs, fleeing death threats, sectarian killings and chronic insecurity in the new Iraq, four years after the American invasion ended what they look back on with nostalgia as better days.

Walid Chiad Nief, chosen by the local authorities as head of the "Baghdad" part of the camp, says 53 families from different parts of the Iraqi capital are living on the stretch of land but that only three of them are Shiite.

"Jaish al-Mahdi (a Shiite militia) came in four vehicles and told us to leave the house in 24 hours. 'Leave or you'll be damned'. So we left our home, our furniture just trying to save our families' lives," says Jalal al-Wan.

Aged 59, his family had lived in southern Baghdad for 30 years. His tribe is mixed Sunni and Shiite, today an enemy to all gangs fighting for control as the capital dismembers into homogenous sectarian districts.

"We chose Sulaimaniyah because we consider it the most secure city in Iraq," he adds, sitting cross legged on a mat under a tent, a grubby little girl with an overgrown fringe sitting on his lap.

Everyone in the camp says they have been welcomed by the local authorities and that aid groups such as the Red Crescent and a Kurdish humanitarian organisation have supplied them with tents, water, food, bedding and clothes.

Deputy mayor Gortiar Nori says local authorities and aid groups are doing the best they can.

"We are following their situation through the Iraqi and international Red Crescent to do the best we can to help them. We help them with many supplies, like tents, foods and blankets and heaters," he says.

"We are in talks to coordinate a plan with the ministry of immigration and refugees in Baghdad to help them and save them," he adds.

Among the displaced are the educated elite, drawn to Sulaimaniyah for its comparative wealth, security, well-stocked shops, inviting restaurants and for the women, more liberal dress codes.

More than 100 of them have PhDs and 5,500 are students, says Othman. The kind of people able to afford hotel rooms or rented apartments.

Sitting in the refined surroundings of the lobby at the best hotel in town, the Sulaimaniyah Palace, Ban Ayoub sits smoking a cigarillo watching her two fatherless children amusing themselves. On a four-day holiday from Baghdad, she is now desperate to move here.

"I was a housewife, living like a queen. When my husband was killed in an explosion four years ago, everything changed," she says as Ethiopian waitresses busy themselves in the hotel cafe.

She became a translator, leaving home at 7:00 am and returning in the evening to shop, cook, fire up the generator and look after her children -- considered Shiite because of their father but living in a Sunni neighbourhood in Baghdad.

"It's very difficult to live as a widow. I'm a man. I'm superman."