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Iraq Report: April 21, 2006

21 April 2006, Volume 9, Number 16

IRAQI SHI'ITE BLOC GOES BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD. Iraq's Shi'ite leaders were scheduled to meet on April 21 to select a new nominee for the post of prime minister a day after Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Ja'fari withdrew his highly contested nomination to the post.

While there is no "front-runner" for the nomination, four men stand out as possible candidates: Ali al-Adib, Jawad al-Maliki, Haydar al-Abadi, and Abd al-Falah al-Sudani, all members of the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party. Another possible candidate is independent Shi'ite politician Husayn al-Shahristani, presidential adviser Wirya Sa'id Rawanduzi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) on April 21.

Kurdistan Coalition member Mahmud Uthman told RFI on April 21 that al-Adib is the most acceptable candidate to the Kurds. Iraqi Accordance Front member Adnan al-Dulaymi told Al-Jazeera on April 21 that he believed al-Adib would be the United Iraqi Alliance's (UIA) nominee.

While al-Adib may be the most acceptable candidate to Sunnis and Kurds, many in the UIA appear to be leaning toward Jawad al-Maliki, a well-known politician and senior member of the Al-Da'wah Party, and a close aide to al-Ja'fari.

Perhaps most important is what candidate would be supported by Shi'a aligned with cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as it was his supporters within the UIA that pushed through al-Ja'fari's nomination in February. London's "Al-Hayat" reported last week that al-Sadr loyalists would support the nomination of both al-Adib and al-Maliki should either be nominated.

Other Key Posts Nearly Decided

President Jalal Talabani told reporters at an April 20 press briefing in Baghdad that he expects political blocs to announce other key cabinet posts, including the president and parliament speaker, at the April 22 parliament session, RFI reported.

There is wide agreement that Talabani will remain president in the new government. Likewise, Adil Abd al-Mahdi, who narrowly lost the prime-ministerial nomination to al-Ja'fari in February, is likely to remain as a vice president. The other vice-presidential post is expected to be filled by a Sunni Arab. According to Adnan al-Dulaymi, the Iraqi Accordance Front has nominated Iraqi Islamic Party head Tariq al-Hashimi to the post.

Al-Hashimi had been nominated to the post of parliament speaker, but Shi'a and Kurds objected, allegedly because of al-Hashimi's former ties to the Ba'ath Party. Thus, it seems doubtful that he would be accepted as a nominee for vice president. Another possible Sunni Arab nominee to the post is al-Dulaymi of the Accordance Front. However, he denied he had been nominated to reporters at a press briefing in Baghdad on April 20.

Al-Dulaymi later told Al-Jazeera television that political blocs have agreed that the deputy speakers of parliament would be Mahmud al-Mashhadani of the Iraqi Accordance Front, Arif Tayfur of the Kurdistan Coalition, and Khalid al-Atiyah from the UIA, the news channel reported on April 21.

Al-Ja'fari 'Not Bitter'

Al-Ja'fari discussed his decision to give up the nomination in an address to the Iraqi people on Al-Iraqiyah state television on April 20. Saying he did not want to be an obstacle to the formation of the next government, he said, "I cannot accept to have my name associated with hindering the movement of a great goal, which represents the essence of the suffering of a people, aspirations of a nation, and the guidance of an authority."

Al-Ja'fari said he was not bitter and did not hold ill will toward political rivals who said one thing in public, and another thing in private. Referring to his rivals, he said, "Perhaps I failed to prevent them from throwing stones, but they have also failed to put me in a position of hostility." (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Originally published on April 21.)

DISPLACEMENT CRISIS WORSENED BY VIOLENCE. Ten thousand Iraqi families have been internally displaced as a result of the ongoing civil conflict, and the number continues to rise. The president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in an April 17 interview that the number of displaced persons has almost tripled in less that a month.

"On March 22, the number of the displaced was 3,400 families, with each family made up of seven to 11 people on average," Sa'id Isma'il Haqqi said. "Between March 22 and April 15, the number of the families [displaced] jumped to 9,900 nearing 10,000 families." If Haqqi's figures are correct, the number of people displaced now stands at about 89,000.

Both the UN and the Red Crescent maintain that the number could be far higher, as many families opt to seek shelter with relatives in different cities rather than in camps. Many of those who fled said they had lived in their homes for more than 20 years.

While the majority of those displaced appear to be residents of Baghdad, minority communities of Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs across the country have fled violence and threats. The surge in sectarian violence is a sufficient threat in and of itself, with dozens of Iraqis now turning up dead on the streets of Baghdad and other cities each week.

In addition, nearly 20,000 Iraqis have been kidnapped so far this year, including 4,959 women and 2,350 children, according to an April 19 report compiled by a group of 125 Iraqi NGOs in Karbala, reported the same day.

Displacement Centers Set Up Across Iraq

According to an April 17 report by the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (, Shi'ite Muslims displaced from the Sunni-majority Al-Anbar Governorate and Baghdad have sought refuge in the southern cities of Al-Najaf, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Basrah. Meanwhile, Sunni families have fled from Shi'ite strongholds in Baghdad and Al-Basrah for the Sunni-populated towns of Al-Fallujah, Al-Ramadi, and Al-Rawa.

More than 500 families are in a Red Crescent camp inside an abandoned factory in Al-Amarah, and 950 families are in another camp set up in an Al-Kut amusement park. The Red Crescent says it has provided the families with electricity, foodstuffs, cooking stoves, and blankets and beds.

Families interviewed by RFI over the past few weeks said they fled their homes after family members were killed, or after being warned to leave or be killed. One Shi'ite woman, who fled Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb district to the Diyala Governorate north of the capital, told RFI on April 19: "We have been beaten up and felt bad as [armed groups] started to kidnap the kids. This is why we have left." The woman, who was not identified by name, said her family was "expelled" from Baghdad.

Another woman, a widow with six children, told RFI that she too was expelled on sectarian grounds. Asked who was responsible for her expulsion, she said: "Well, I don't know. We don't have anything [against] Sunnis and Shi'a. We don't know from which sect this [threat] has come." The woman did not identify her own sect. The head of the Red Crescent Society in Diyala's Al-Miqdadiyah district told RFI that some 175 displaced families are registered, and new families continue to arrive seeking food rations and other support.

Earlier this month, gunmen in Al-Basrah distributed leaflets threatening to kill Sunni Arabs unless they left the city. City officials said that 12 Sunnis had been killed in sectarian attacks in the first week of April, RFI reported, while Waqf officials said that the number was closer to 40 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 6, 2006).

Campaigns of Intimidation

The tactics used by armed Sunni and Shi'ite groups are similar to campaigns by Sunni insurgents in Mosul in 2004 and 2005 to drive Kurdish residents from the city. Families received written notes warning them to leave, or awoke to find threats scribbled in graffiti on their homes. Others reported confrontations with armed gunmen.

In some cases the tactics have become more sophisticated. Some of the displaced said they had received threatening text messages and grisly videos filmed on mobile-phone cameras warning them to leave, the BBC reported on April 13.

One video purportedly showed a Sunni Arab man who had entered a Shi'ite-majority neighborhood in Baghdad being beaten and killed by men in black clothes. The video promised the same fate to any other Sunni who came to that neighborhood.

Iraqis are not the only ones suffering under the threat of intimidation and violence. Palestinian families who have lived in Iraq for decades have fled Baghdad under increasing threat by armed groups since 2003. In the past month, about 100 Palestinians have sought safe haven in Jordan after coming under threat, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on April 7. Jordan refused them entry, and they remain stranded on the Iraqi side of the border.

According to HRW, the situation of Palestinian refugees in Iraq has deteriorated significantly over the past year. Ten Palestinians were murdered in late February. In March, fliers were distributed in a Baghdad neighborhood anonymously warning some 35 Palestinian families to leave their houses by April 2, one refugee told HRW.

Iraqis say that Sunnis and Shi'a lived together in harmony until Saddam Hussein built a regime that favored one sectarian identity over another. Today, that harmony seems all but a mirage hijacked through retribution attacks by both victor and vanquished.

While the average Iraqi on the street may hold no ill will against his neighbor, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the campaigns of violence carried out against Sunnis and Shi'a, which grow more brutal by the day.

The longer it takes to bring the security situation under control, the more difficult it will be to reverse the ethnic cleansing of mixed communities that is now taking place across Iraq. Should armed groups achieve their goal, the result will be more than just notations on a map; it will also be a cultural and linguistic loss and, in the end, a loss of Iraqi identity. (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Originally published on April 21.)

RED CRESCENT SOCIETY AIDING INTERNALLY DISPLACED IRAQIS. Iraqi Red Crescent President Sa'id Isma'il Haqqi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in an exclusive interview in Baghdad on April 17 that there are now some 10,000 families displaced in camps inside Iraq due to the ongoing civil conflict. The interview was broadcast on April 19.

Haqqi: We provide humanitarian aid and food items. In coordination with the Council of Ministers and the ministries in charge, we work on setting up camps that would meet health and security standards and provide comfort.

RFI: Have any of the camps been already set up?

Haqqi: We already have many camps throughout Iraq, in 14 governorates [out of Iraq's 18 governorates].

RFI: There has been a sharp rise in the displacement cases in recent weeks.

Haqqi: On March 22, the number of the displaced was 3,400 families, with each family made up of seven to 11 people on average. Between March 22 and April 15, the number of the families [displaced] jumped to 9,900, nearing 10,000 families. This is more than a triple rise.

RFI: Can you give us an idea of the geographic and demographic distribution of the displacement cases?

Haqqi: Yes. The most cases of displacement are in Baghdad and its neighborhoods, in addition to southern governorates: Wasit, Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Maysan. The only governorates free of displacement cases are the governorates of Kurdistan Region [Dahuk, Irbil, and Al-Sulaymaniyah].

RFI: Does it mean that the displacement occurs from Baghdad southward?

Haqqi: Depending on the area. If there is a Shi'ite majority, Sunnis flee from them to [predominantly] Sunni areas such as Abu Ghurayb, Al-Fallujah, and Al-Ramadi. If Shi'a are the minority, they resettle to such places like Sadr City, Ubaydi, Al-Najaf, and Karbala.

RFI: What has been done for improving the services provided to the displaced?

Haqqi: The Council of Ministers has ordered the Finance Ministry to start funding these projects. The ministries of Migration and Displacement, Health, Interior, and Defense have also been included. They will hopefully provide something specific within the next days, a complex plan that would first of all stop the displacement. At the same time, we want to be able to give the displaced people what they deserve for living their lives in peace and dignity.

(Translated by Petr Kubalek)