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Iraq: Official Says Refugees To Get New Passports Soon

Iraqi refugees in Damascus last month (epa) March 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Jordan has agreed to allow Iraqis holding series S passports to remain in the kingdom until June. Iraq's neighbor had earlier said all Iraqis carrying the passport, which can be easily forged, will not be allowed to renew their residency in the country. Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi discussed the issues with RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo.

RFE/RL: The Jordanian government announced last week that it will no longer accept series S passports for Iraqis residing in or visiting Jordan. We also heard that the Iraqi Embassy in Jordan is only issuing 10 new series G passports each week. Has there been any change in policy as far as this is concerned, because it seems the majority of Iraqis living in Jordan will be forced to either return to Iraq or seek refuge in a third country.

Labid Abawi: We have talked to our Jordanian friends on this issue and we asked them to postpone the implementation of this decision for a few months to give the chance to [Iraqis] to get the new passports.

At the moment, the rate of issuance of new passports is not as quick as we expected it to be, but I believe that in the coming weeks we expect to speed up this process and we hope that this problem will be solved by issuing them [Iraqis] the new passports.

So the Jordanians have agreed at least at the first stage, to postpone [the] decision until June and maybe even...until the end of the year. So, I think this problem, at least temporarily has been [resolved] as far as the passport problem is concerned.

As for the refugees, of course, it is unfortunate that we see so many Iraqis leaving to neighboring countries because of the situation.... But we hope that if things move forward and we have some progress in the security plan, maybe things will get better and less people will leave and we will start getting people back [to Iraq].

As you know, more than 900 displaced families have returned back to their homes inside the country. We hope to increase this [number] as the stage of the Baghdad [security] plan moves forward.

Will the Iraqi Embassy in Jordan be issuing more than 10 passports a week?

Abawi: I haven't heard this [number]; I don't think this is true.

RFE/RL: How many passports is the embassy capable of issuing in one week?

Abawi: I don't know how many they are capable of issuing at [Iraq's] Jordanian Embassy but it's a large embassy, it has a lot of staff, and I think they issue definitely more than 10 passports a day.

It's not only a question of the new passport. They renew passports, and extend I think they are doing a lot of good work there. I don't know about the 10 and where this number comes from.

What about the stories we're hearing of people paying hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars to obtain a passport faster from say, Baghdad or Kurdistan?

Abawi: You find this in every country of the world. Sometimes you have to pay extra to get a passport faster. I heard even in Europe you can get a new passport...if you pay double the rate, you can get a passport in 24 hours.

RFE/RL: Yes, in the United States we have this policy as well and it's stated on the embassy website, but this is different. This is Iraqis saying that they're paying bribes of $2,000 to get a passport.

Abawi: Yeah, there are people paying extra to get the passports quicker than others. We call it part of the corruption.... I think it is only because we do not have enough passports to go around now and manpower for issuing these passports is not enough [in terms of training] because, you know, this is a new electronic machinery for this passport; it's something that's very new. We're still in the process of training these people. So the rate of the work is a bit slow. Maybe in a few weeks' time we will open new centers in Baghdad as well as in the embassies [and] we can reduce this practice [of taking bribes].

RFE/RL: Is this an idea to open new centers or is this a plan?

Abawi: No this is a plan that we are planning -- I think at the moment we are issuing something like 3,000 passports per day. We hope to increase that to [9,000] or 10,000 per day.... And also in time we're going to open new centers in the governorates as well -- in the provinces -- once we get the machinery. So you know, we're talking about something more than...10 to 15 million [Iraqis need these] passports -- this new passport -- so definitely it's going to take a long, long time.

But people, unfortunately, they want their passports quickly so they go and bribe this man or people they know to get their passports quicker than others. It's an unfortunate thing that is happening. We try to control it and contain it but it is impossible to do especially when you're talking about the situation in Iraq. We have a lot of, unfortunately, corruption....

RFE/RL: How big do you think the corruption problem is in the Foreign Ministry?

Abawi: Personally, I haven't seen any evidence of corruption. We have a general inspector in our ministry who oversees all the things...the moment we hear there is something wrong, we [will] form an investigation committee either here or at an embassy, and we will try to get to the bottom of any problems and we will take action against any people [engaged in corrupt] practices. But I don't think that we have a major problem at the Foreign Ministry.

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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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