Fleeing violence, Iraq's Arabs flock to Kurdistan




 
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Fleeing violence, Iraq's Arabs flock to Kurdistan
 
September 6th, 2006  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Fleeing violence, Iraq's Arabs flock to Kurdistan


Fleeing violence, Iraq's Arabs flock to Kurdistan
Media: Reuters
Byline: Ibon Villelabeitia
Date: 5 September 2006

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq - Fed up with car bombs and death threats, Lazem Hamid, an
Iraqi doctor from one of Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods, decided one
day to pack his bags and take his family north to Kurdistan.

"I had to leave it all and come here. There was no chance for us in Baghdad.
The day we left, our neighbors came out to congratulate us. Life is good
here. I have made Kurdish friends," said the 50-year-old microbiology
specialist.

Thousands of Arabs like Hamid have arrived among the ethnic Kurds of the
soaring northern mountains, fleeing the violence gripping much of Iraq since
the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in February pushed the country to the brink
of civil war.

The trend is a stunning reversal for Iraq's Kurdistan, home mainly to
non-Arab Kurds. During the 1980s, tens of thousands of Kurds were killed in
the region during Saddam Hussein's military campaign, which emptied entire
villages.

In June, Hamid set up a private clinic in Sulaimaniya, in partnership with a
cardiologist and an orthopedics specialist -- both of whom are also from
Baghdad, 205 miles to the south.

It is not only doctors and academics who have fled north, leaving
once-prestigious hospitals and universities in Baghdad without qualified
specialists and scholars.

Arab laborers from the Shi'ite south and the Sunni heartland have also
sought refuge from the violence. Now, hundreds sleep on cardboard boxes in
Sulaimaniya's public parks, scratching out a living in the booming
construction sector or working as porters for Kurdish merchants.

There are no official figures for the number of Arabs who have resettled in
Kurdistan, but anecdotal evidence suggests it has become a magnet for those
who can't afford to go abroad.

PEACE IN THE PARK

Iraq's Kurdistan has been semi-autonomous since a failed uprising against
Saddam in 1991 that led the United States and Britain to establish a no-fly
zone across the region.

The 2003 fall of Saddam, who is on trial for genocide for the seven-month
campaign against the Kurds in 1988, deepened the region's autonomy and its
relative calm set it apart even more.

Many of the Arab laborers -- Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims alike -- come from
regions where their communities are at each other's throats. More than 3,000
people were killed in sectarian bloodshed in July alone.

But in the crowded parks of Sulaimaniya they seem to live in harmony. They
pray together in the old mosque, share meals and sleep on the withered
grass, head to toe, their few possessions -- usually spare sandals and an
extra shirt -- lying nearby.

"I left my home because I was scared of getting killed. I feel safe here and
have a job," said Hassan Ali Mohammed, a Sunni who arrived in June from
Baquba, a city north of Baghdad, which has seen some of the worst violence
in the country.

Mohammed, who makes $10 a day working as a mason, said Kurds were kind and
local police didn't bother them as long as they stayed away from the city's
main park, which is across the street from a hotel frequented by foreigners.

"We are all poor in this park, Shi'ites and Sunnis. We get along. We all
want to work," said Mohammed Hassad, a Shi'ite from Hilla, south of Baghdad,
who arrived in August.

While violence has left much of Iraq's economy in tatters, cities in
Kurdistan are prosperous with building cranes popping up and foreign firms
looking for bases. Rents have soared, the region offers tax breaks to firms,
profits can be transferred out of Kurdistan and foreign companies can own
land.

Kurds seem generally happy that their economy is expanding enough to absorb
the labor of their Arab neighbors, although many Kurds are also unemployed,
especially in the countryside.

But some Arabs complain of feeling unwelcome in the far north and Arab-Kurd
struggles for control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk remain a potential
flashpoint for conflict.

"THE DOCTOR IS NOT HERE"

According to Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration, about 200,000
people have fled their homes due to sectarian violence since the bombing of
the Samarra mosque in February.

But the number of refugees is likely to be far higher because ministry
figures do not include those who flee abroad or resettle in other parts of
Iraq.

The population shift is consolidating a de facto partition along ethnic and
sectarian lines. In religiously mixed Baghdad, officials and residents talk
gloomily of the emergence of a Shi'ite-Sunni "Green Line," with the Tigris
River as a border.

The drift north is also creating a brain drain.

Iraqis living in Baghdad and in other cities find it increasingly difficult
to track down a surgeon or dentist. Many are turned away at emergency rooms
with the words: "The doctor is not here. Go to Jordan or Kurdistan to get
treated."

In the 1980s, Iraq boasted some of the best doctors in the Arab world and
many traveled to Baghdad to be treated.

Hamid, the microbiologist, said he has no plans to return to Baghdad any
time soon and that he has even learned some Kurdish. He said the doctor who
replaced him at his Baghdad hospital was kidnapped for a $40,000 ransom.

"I still have a house in Baghdad," he said. "One day I will return. But only
when there is security."
 


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