New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, who has put his life at risk to get stories in Iraq, says partition of Iraq would be difficult because of the ethnically mixed neighborhoods in cities.
But in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul, there are no clear geographical lines separating the main groups. A breakup into ethnic regions or states would almost certainly increase the pressure on families to flee the mixed neighborhoods to be closer to members of their own group. Shiites to Shiites, Sunnis to Sunnis. Ethnic cleansing is already happening in Iraq, but still at a relatively slow pace.
Iraq's main groups - and even smaller ones, like Christians and Turkomans - now live together in many places. While the Tigris River acts as a broad ethnic boundary in both Baghdad and Mosul - Sunnis on the west and Shiites on the east in Baghdad, and Sunnis on the west and Kurds on the east in Mosul - there are large pockets of each group on both sides of the river.
Trying to divide those cities could result in the expulsion of tens of thousands of people from their homes, maybe more. That is not a pretty process: the neighborhoods around the edges of Baghdad have already experienced a lot of ethnic cleansing - mainly Shiites being forced from their homes.
But unless the inter-ethnic violence abates up that partitioning is going to continue to happen. All the while US policy makers will continue to insist that partition is unthinkable. Baghdad is ethnically purifying into Shiite and Sunni sections along the two sides of the Tigris River that runs through it.
Imad Talib lived in a Shiite-dominated district for many years until threats by Shiite militiamen forced the Sunni Arab to move across town. Ahmed Khazim left a mostly Sunni suburb for Sadr City, where his Shiite sect forms the majority.
Religiously mixed neighborhoods of this sprawling city are gradually disappearing as sectarian tensions are prompting Shiites and Sunnis to move to areas where they are predominant.
The trend is raising concerns that Baghdad is slowly being transformed into a divided city with a Shiite-dominated east and mostly Sunni west, separated by the Tigris River that flows through the heart of the capital.
The rate of populations shifting around is limited by housing. People can't all get up and move simultaneously. Every family of one ethnic group who flee create an opening for a familiy of another group to move in. But this all takes time. Also, construction of housing takes time. The rate of migration would be faster if more housing was available.
Estimates on the number of families that have moved due to the conflict vary. But one part of the Iraqi government puts the number of peopple who have moved at over 23,000.
Since the Samarra bombing, Interior Ministry official Satar Nawrouz estimates that nearly 4,000 families or about 23,670 people have been forced to relocate to other neighborhoods in the Baghdad area due to sectarian tensions.
Since the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra was bombed on February 22, 2006 that works out to over 5000 per month in Baghdad alone. Continued over the course of a year that would add up to 60,000. The Iraqi government has a limited ability to track its own citizens and that estimate may well be too low.
Assyrian writer Rosie Malek-Yonan, author of The Crimson Field, testifying before the House Committee on International Relations on June 30, 2006, claims that just last week 7000 Assyrian Christians fled Baghdad.
We Assyrians are not extraordinary people. But we are caught up in the cross fires of extraordinary events. And yet we don't fight violence with violence. We don't retaliate. Because we just want to live. When our churches are bombed, we don't think of retribution. We walk away as Christians should.
Just this week, 7,000 Assyrians left Baghdad for Northern Iraq. The women and children have taken refuge in other Assyrian homes, while the men sleep in the cemeteries at night. I don't mean figuratively. I mean literally. They sleep in the cemeteries because they have no other shelter. These suffering Assyrians in Iraq depend on our courage in the western world to help them.
A few months ago, I met with Mar Gewargis Sliwa, the Assyrian Archbishop of Iraq from the Assyrian Catholic Church of the East. His account of the lives of Assyrian children in Iraq was appalling and heartbreaking. He said to me, "We can't help our children anymore. They play in fields of blood. We are a poor nation. We need help. Help us."
Lamani said that 3,500 Christian families who had received threats had also fled the capital for the relative safety of Kurdistan.
The sudden influx of Christians to Inkawa has made it increasingly difficult for families of modest means to rent accommodation. A two-room apartment now costs at least 500 dollars a month, with more spacious properties costing double.
Other families share a single apartment, while the demand for even meagre homes from Inkawa estate agents remains high in this town of 30,000, almost all Christians.
"Three to six heads of families come here every day looking for lodging, and it's more and more difficult to find something for them," says estate agent Kameran Matti.
The Christians in Iraq are especially getting shafted by the US invasion. They were safer under Saddam Hussein. Western Christians ought to set up programs to build housing in Iraqi Christian villages in relatively safer areas so that Christians can flee to safer areas.
The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes for safer parts of the country has more than doubled in two weeks to 65,000, the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration said Thursday.
A ministry spokesman reported a twofold jump from the 30,000 internal refugees estimated on March 30. The ministry put the number of families on the move at 10,991.
I doubt that Iraqi government employees are trying to systematically conduct a census with questions that would let them measure the extent of the internal migrations. So these numbers sound like guesses.
"While many were displaced as long ago as the early 1980s, the last four months of increasing violence and relentless sectarian tensions have resulted in the displacement of a further 150,000 individuals."
That's a rate of 450,000 per year. The internal migration rate could accelerate in response to future bombings, killings, and threats by militias. The war could go on for years. De facto partition looks more likely than not.
Update: The partitioning of Baghdad might end up putting some government ministries in Sunni hands and others in Shia hands depending on where they are located. Sunnis and Shias may become unwilling to cross over the river to get to work in areas where the other group dominates. Perhaps the Shiites in government will place more government offices on the Shia side of the Tigris River.
Update: Will the internal migration rate increase? Will ethnic cleansing accelerate. A rise in deaths in Baghdad suggests that the pressure to move to more ethnically pure neighborhoods will increase.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 4 — The central morgue said Tuesday that it received 1,595 bodies last month, 16 percent more than in May, in a tally that showed the pace of killing here has increased since the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq.
The more people of one ethnic group move out of a neighrborhood the more that those who remain will think they've got to leave too.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2006 July 03 09:38 PM MidEast Iraq Partition|