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As If There Were No Tomorrow Sunnis Leaving Iraq

Khalid Jarrar**, Freelance Writer – Jordan

March 5, 2006

Once I got to the Iraqi borders, I panicked when I saw the numbers of Iraqis leaving, as if there were no tomorrow — huge numbers waiting in long, endless lines. It could take you 48 hours at the Iraqi-Jordanian border to have your passport stamped and your car checked. It's a scene that I wish I had never seen.

I moved to Iraq fifteen years ago. I was so young and I didn't know much about it, but I was so eager to explore the country I later started referring to as "home."

A few months ago, I had to leave — a decision I had thought I would never take —because it became simply too dangerous to stay in anymore. Since the 2003 war and the beginning of the occupation, the security situation, among other things, started deteriorating.

"Divide and conquer" is perhaps the oldest trick in the book and the occupation has been using it in every way since the very beginning. The US occupation's strategy was to support Shiites and Kurds and favor them over Sunnis in forming an Iraqi government, and, in the same time, apply all possible kinds of oppression and attacks against Sunnis. The Occupation hoped, in this way, to create internal clashes between different sects in order to keep everyone too busy to care about the occupation or demand its withdrawal.

Iraqis were no longer Iraqis; they became either Sunnis, Shiites, or Kurds — in the media, in the political process, in the news, and everywhere. Since the war, when people ask me, "Where are you from?" and I say that I am from Iraq, another question automatically follows: "Are you Sunni, Shiite, or Kurdish?"

"Sunnis feel it is unsafe for them to remain in the country because they are being persecuted by the Badr and Sadr militias."

An attitude that was totally adopted by mainstream media in the West, making it look like a fact that there is no such thing as Iraq but rather only a number of groups fighting on its soil, a soil that happens to cover one of the largest oil reserves in the world, a soil that had one of the oldest civilizations in history.

So here is why I left Iraq: For no crime at all but being a Sunni, I was arrested by the ministry of interior's intelligence body and detained for a couple of weeks. I made my way out of detention after they couldn't prove anything against me and couldn't make me confess of crimes that I hadn't done: They weren't able to make me say the name of "my terrorist cell" or "where its funding came from." I was labeled "terrorist" the moment I entered there, even before they started to interrogate me. But as I said, since they couldn't get any information out of me, they freed me for a few thousand dollars.

After paying them what they wanted, I left the prison, and under threats from them and other militias, I left Iraq.

During the days I spent on the seventh floor of the interior ministry, which is where all the "terror" cases are handled, I got to see what sectarianism really means and how innocent people are arrested, tortured, beaten, killed, and labeled "terrorists" —for no crime but being Sunnis. Raids on Sunni neighborhoods result in arresting large numbers of men; practically any male between 18 and 40 can be arrested; and usually after a few days some of these bodies are found around Baghdad or in dumpsters, tortured to death or executed.

There is one big, well-organized gang ruling Iraq now, in control of the ministry of interior, the police, and the so-called national guard (in addition to other ministries) — all owned by or affiliated with extremists coming from Iran, the Daawa Party, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). These are the parties in power now, and they want to make sure that everyone in the country understands this message. By "cooperating" with the Occupation, they get to do literally anything they want.

"[Those] who insist that leaving ... isn't the answer, [have] their children abducted and ... [get] terrorized by ... the ministry of interior."

The terrible security situation led to the appearance of these NGGs, the name I gave to Non-Governmental Gangs, which are now in their golden days, kidnapping innocents, hijacking cars, and stealing personal and public property.

Huge numbers of people are unemployed due to administrative mistakes made by the Occupation, and if you want to get a job in the public sector, you'd better have a good recommendation from the closest Dawwa Party, SCIRI, or Sadr offices; otherwise, don't count on your degree or resume — they hardly matter.

A big mess — that's how the situation is in Iraq. Escaping has become the only option left for so many Iraqis.

Below is the account of R, a 24-year-old Iraqi woman who asked me not to publish her name. She is still in Baghdad but we correspond via e-mail.

During the last year, Sunnis were not sure whether it was a good idea to leave Iraq because everyone believed that the current SCIRI/Daawa government was interim and that they would be gone by the next elections. Now that Sunnis feel that this government is permanent, they are thinking about leaving the country.

This is the case with my family. We do not consider ourselves Sunni or Shiite; we consider ourselves educated Iraqi Muslims. For educated Iraqis, this situation is unbearable — not because Shiites are in power, but because the people currently in power want to spread sectarian differences and Iraqis are not accustomed to this.

Sunnis feel it is unsafe for them to remain in the country — and especially in Baghdad — because they are being persecuted by the Badr and Sadr militias simply for being Sunnis. With the help of the US occupation forces, Sunnis are being rounded up by the hundreds and thrown into detention and sometimes assassinated — their bodies found later in areas outside of Baghdad.

Now that educated Iraqis — Sunnis, Shiites and Christians — know that the current government will be here for at least another four years, they are trying to find a way out. For Christians, church groups are arranging for their immigration to countries like Australia, Holland, etc. But Muslims are seeking refuge in countries like Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, and other Arab countries.

For people who insist that leaving the country isn't the answer, their children are being abducted and they are being terrorized by people from the ministry of interior. Many educated Iraqis get threatened when they decide they would like to remain in the country and are eventually forced to leave their homes and jobs for the more secure situation of a neighboring country.

I also still correspond with AnaRki13, a 23-year-old Iraqi blogger who spoke to me about brain drain, or "brain migration" as Iraqi newspapers call it in Arabic. Here is an excerpt of an e-mail he sent me:

Not so much a migration as a forced exodus. Scientists, engineers, doctors, architects, writers, poets, you name it — everybody is getting out of town.

Why? Simple: 1.There is no real job market in Iraq. 2. Even if you have a good job, chances are good you'll get kidnapped or killed. It's just not worth it staying here. Sunni, Shiite, or Christian — everybody, we're all leaving, or have already left.

One of my friends keeps berating me about how I should love this country, the land of my ancestors, where I was born and raised; how I should be grateful and return to the place that gave me everything. I always tell him the same thing: "Iraq, as you and me once knew it, is lost. What's left of it, I don't want."

I know so many families (all or in part) that have left, prepared to leave, or want to leave. Staying equals danger: Kidnappings, threats, and, for some, persecution. 

Now in Iraq, you cannot be Iraqi. You can be either Sunni or Shiite. And it rips my heart in two.

If you want to get a job in the public sector, you'd better have a recommendation from the closest Dawwa Party, SCIRI, or Sadr offices.

The most famous doctors and university professors have already left the country because many of them, including ones I knew personally, were assassinated or killed, and the rest got the message — and got themselves jobs in the west, where they were received warmly and given high positions. Other millions of Iraqis, just ordinary Iraqis, left and are leaving — without plans and with much hope. 

In Jordan, for example, the government refuses to give official numbers of Iraqis in the country. According to unofficial estimates, there are about a million Iraqis in Jordan and another million in Syria. And although being a legal resident in Jordan for Iraqis requires keeping $150,000 in a bank for a whole year without using them, the estimated numbers of apartments bought by Iraqis since the war exceeds 50,000, let alone the huge numbers of Iraqis who can't afford to buy a house and have to stay illegally in the country, like Marwan, an Iraqi pharmacist I met in Jordan.

He is working part-time in a pharmacy in Amman. When I talked to him, he repeated what I had heard before: threats by Shiite militias, the bad security situation, no job opportunities, etc. All Iraqis I talked to in Jordan said the same thing and they are now hoping to get a visa to any country that welcomes them, hoping to settle down and be able to live their lives normally, something they lost hope to be able to have in Iraq for the time being.

Najma, another young Iraqi blogger living in the city of Mosul in the north of Iraq told me of two of her uncles who left Iraq, one this year, the other more than 10 years ago: "[They] both do not want to come back. I don't blame them, and as much as I'd like them to come back to work for Iraq other than whomever they're working for now, I want them to stay there, and would flee out as soon as I can myself, simply because I hate it here."

Many reasonable voices from both sides, Sunnis and Shiites, are calling for peaceful co-existence in Iraq, like Iraqis lived for hundred of years. There are calls for unity among Iraqis in order to accelerate the process of ending the occupation, restore stability, and improve the economic situation, so that Iraqis stop leaving Iraq, and so that the ones that left can come back. A recent poll conducted in Iraq shows that 70% of Iraqis favor setting a timetable for US forces to withdraw, which indicates that Iraqis are aware that the real source of danger that threatens their present and future is the foreign, illegal occupation.

Iraqis who left Iraq in millions might have different destinations and plans, different degrees and financial capacities, but they all have one thing for sure: They are all waiting for the day their country is free so that they can return back to their loved ones, to their homes, to the Tigris and the Euphrates.

** Khalid Jarrar is an Iraqi-Palestinian student who lived in Iraq from July 1991 through July 2005 and has recently moved to Jordan . Khalid maintains a blog, Secrets in Baghdad, where he writes about ordinary Iraqis and daily life in post-war Iraq .

:: Article nr. 21257 sent on 06-mar-2006 00:32 ECT


Link: www.islam-online.net/english/In_Depth/Iraq_Aftermath/2006/03/article01.shtml

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