2006 July 03 Monday
Will Internal Migration Lead To Iraq Partition?

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."

A Christian town of 30,000 in the Kurdish region has 3 to 6 heads of family arriving every day looking for housing so their families can flee other parts of Iraq.

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.

A report from April 14, 2006 puts the number of internal refugees on the move at more than ten thousand a week at that point.

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.

The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) puts the number displaced over the last 4 months at 150,000.

"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

CASpears said at July 3, 2006 9:49 PM:

Sounds a lot like the partition of India after Indian independence but possibly even more bloody.

John S Bolton said at July 5, 2006 9:47 PM:

If diversity is so advantageous for America, as supposedly honest scholars and officials repeatedly tell us, why is it a problem in Iraq?
How could they not just feel as they're told, by our celebrated leaders, that homogeneity is just too dull, almost like not having much chance of being killed this month.
Can't we just send a few hundred distinguished professors out to the triangle, and have them lay out for the benighted savages their duty to understand; that there is a brotherhood and equality of all mankind?
How can they be dividing cities, those throbbing idylls of diversity, when Voltaire himself said that the Jew trades with the Moslem, etc.?
Therefore let the very Peace Ship of our time, laden full with egalitarian scholars, sail in glory to Baghdad, and teach them that all men are brothers and naturally at peace, regardless of any other identity they may have; since all are equal, and enemies have been found trading with one another!

Chuck Copley said at July 5, 2006 10:25 PM:

John—to answer your question: The reason why the liberal elites profess a faith—yes; a faith: It takes faith (and a short-sighted idiot) to believe that diversity brings benefits, in my honest opinion—is because it helps them to further accomplish their ultimate goal: To dismantle the old America, and erode a new America; a strange, foreign and unknown America. (The academic elites know that diversity brings no benefits to the American people, but instead it benefits their ultimate dream of nationally exploring an unknown future).

John S Bolton said at July 6, 2006 12:49 AM:

A leap into the dark, is an act of faith, no doubt. Along with all the faithful followers, though, mustn't there be at least some few, who know where they're leading?
Here's a stab in the dark.
What if Iraq were an experiment in what can be gotten away with in America, in years to come?
Iraq, Afghanistan and America oddly happen to have the three most heavily-armed civilian populations, of sizable countries in the world.
The long tolerance of IED's from civilians, of atrocities apparently the most likely to inflame intercommunal warfare, and more, all giving the impression that the US military has little capacity to control such methods, would look that much worse if some intended it to be a model of wars to one day appear here.
Not that it is easy to control such a situation with fewer than hundreds of thousands of soldiers; it might be actually impossible once the situation has developed.

no-more-pc-wars said at July 6, 2006 11:40 AM:

It very well might be that ethnic cleansing will happen on large scale.
However data cited don't quite support it.

"23,670 people have been forced"
It is 0.4% of Bagdad population. In 100 years 40% will move. Wow.

450K/year movers in Iraq
It is 1.7% of Iraq population. In 10 years about 20% will move. If sustained over 10-20 years
that will complete Iraq ethnic separation. Probably a good result but will it happen over 10 years?

If Jorge Bush administration had any sense, they would switch to a "divide and concur" strategy as most sensible. That strategy logically supports population exchages.
Jorge would have a chance to snatch semi-victory from a jaws of defeat, with Kurdistan as a permanent base of punitive operations against troublemakers in Arabia.
For Kurdistan the presense of american superbase will quarantee their independence from Turkey and Iran, thus their loyalty is bought as much as loyalty can be bought from folks in Arabia.

Randall Parker said at July 6, 2006 3:39 PM:


I do not see how the Iraqi government could know of the scale of movements. People moving one side of the Tigris to the other in Baghdad aren't going to get recorded in most cases. They'll sneak out of their old place and into their new one. They'll try to do it as secretly as possible so that they do not get killed while departing.

Also, I suspect the government wants to play down the scale of the problem.

After the Samarra mosque bombing the rates of killings and movings went way up. More provocations will get the Shiite militias even more in the mood for killings and the rate of movements could surge to an even higher level.

Yes, we probably ought to support population exchanges by building housing and helping to protect people who move.

Randall Parker said at July 6, 2006 3:40 PM:

John Bolton,

I think we should send all the Wall Street Journal editors, NY Times editors, and Congressional Open Borders advocates to Iraq to explain to them the advantages of multiculturalism.

CASpears said at July 6, 2006 6:22 PM:

John Bolton:

Uhm who do you think will be fighting your imaginary war on American soil?

John S Bolton said at July 7, 2006 2:32 AM:

Internal conflicts here are not imaginary, neither is the official push to increase them.
We don't have large numbers of martyrdom-seekers as yet; but that difference with Iraq is being worked on, not least through immigration policy.

John S Bolton said at July 7, 2006 2:40 AM:

The size of the populations being moved out of certain areas in Iraq, should be compared to the number living in mixed areas, which are in some contention, not the total of the country.

CASpears said at July 7, 2006 1:43 PM:

Uhm are you like one of those psuedo-rednecks that live in the woods in Montana with like 1,000 guns waiting for the race war? haha...or the government to attack you at any given moment because "they are on to you"?

There is medicine for that you know.

(Vicente) Fox Hound [to what shall I change my handle after he's out of office?] said at July 7, 2006 3:14 PM:

"Uhm are you like one of those psuedo-rednecks that live in the woods in Montana with like 1,000 guns waiting for the race war? haha...or the government to attack you at any given moment because "they are on to you"?

There is medicine for that you know.

Posted by CASpears at July 7, 2006 01:43 PM "

Pity there is none for your condition, CASpears--not yet. Maybe you should try the chemicals under your kitchen sink in the meantime.

CASpears said at July 7, 2006 6:32 PM:

Vincente are you are Bolton's boyfriend? If not then let him be a man and speak for himself, if you are then you can put your $**# back in his #*#*# and I will address you when speaking to him from now on.

John S Bolton said at July 8, 2006 12:57 AM:

If you have to use ad hominem, it just makes obvious that you are incapable of finding a rational argument for your position, which for some reason you also do not dare to articulate.
Would it be something like: our government really wants peace, love, equality, brotherhood, altruism, diversity, openness, compassion, understanding, respect and tolerance, and all they need is more power?

CASpears said at July 8, 2006 8:37 AM:

I believe I am asking you to articulate your opinion. Who do you think would be involved and how do you think an Iraqi like situation will come about in America? Spare me the CHarles Manson Helter Skelter theories...if that is all you are working with...

John S Bolton said at July 8, 2006 1:41 PM:

I don't like your disrespectful tone, and I don't believe your questions are honestly posed or intended.

CASpears said at July 11, 2006 7:53 PM:

Sounds like a beta-male keyboard warrior that is light in the pants...grow a pair and get back to me about what you think or stay in the woods and with the .45 under your pillow waiting on Helter Skelter.

John S Bolton said at February 18, 2007 5:32 PM:

If ad hominem smearing is all that can be opposed to my arguments then that says something even larger perhaps

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