March 5, 2006
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
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."
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
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.
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
feel it is unsafe for them to remain in the country because
they are being persecuted by the Badr and Sadr militias."
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
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.
them what they wanted, I left the prison, and under threats
from them and other militias, I left Iraq.
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.
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.
who insist that leaving ... isn't the answer, [have] their
children abducted and ... [get] terrorized by ... the ministry
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.
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.
big mess — that's how the situation is in Iraq. Escaping has
become the only option left for so many Iraqis.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
so much a migration as a forced exodus. Scientists, engineers,
doctors, architects, writers, poets, you name it — everybody
is getting out of town.
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
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
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.
in Iraq, you cannot be Iraqi. You can be either Sunni or Shiite.
And it rips my heart in two.
you want to get a job in the public sector, you'd better have
a recommendation from the closest Dawwa Party, SCIRI, or Sadr
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
from July 1991 through July 2005 and has recently moved to
. Khalid maintains a blog, Secrets
in Baghdad, where he writes about ordinary Iraqis and
daily life in post-war