BAGHDAD (AFP) – Nearly two million Iraqis have fled their homes for other parts of Iraq since the US invasion, creating a “human tragedy without precedence,” the country’s Red Crescent said in a report.
The figures only cover those internally displaced and does not include the UN-estimated two million who have also fled but left their homeland completely, to go to Syria, Jordan and other neighbouring countries.
As at August 31 this year, 1,930,946 people had left their homes to seek safety elsewhere within Iraq’s borders since the March 2003 invasion, creating a record in the annals of Iraq’s human upheaval, the humanitarian society said.
Most were women and children — poor, sick, suffering malnutrition, and with little access to Iraq’s health infrastructure or basic services.
“Heads of families have very often fled or joined an armed group … Violence, rape, the omniprescence of armed groups and drugs are a widespread phenemenom among the displaced,” the Red Crescent said.
“The horror of daily slaughter and attacks has a serious impact on the psychological health of the women and children.”
According to the Red Crescent, the number of displaced people increased by some 71 percent in August compared to the previous month, with most of the increase taking place in the capital, Baghdad.
The city now had nearly one million displaced people for an estimated total population of four to five million, it said.
The report offers no explanation for the sudden jump in Baghdad residents leaving their homes, but it coincided with the sixth month of a vast US military offensive to try to improve security in the city.
The US claims of “success” there in the battle against armed groups could have spurred civilians to flee during a period of relative calm in the violence.
The humanitarian group said the attack on the Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 acted as a signal for the exodus of thousands of Iraqis, as it unleashed widespread sectarian violence.
“Thousands of Shiites fled Sunni zones, and vice-versa. Many Christians also left Sunni districts to go to Kurdistan”, in northern Iraq, where recent Turkish and Iranian bombardments on frontier regions have also caused thousands of villagers to flee.
The Iraqi Red Crescent is one of the rare humanitarian organisations still active in the war-ravaged nation.
Separately, the UN refugee agency has said that 1.4 million Iraqis are today seeking refuge in Syria, with between 500,000 and 750,000 in neighbouring Jordan.
This exile is the biggest population upheaval in the Middle East since the flight of the Palestinians after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Looking at the impact on the Iraqi people, the report said: “These dramatic events, associated with decades of oppression and sanctions, have fractured the country’s social tissue and Iraqi society.”
Pinpointing the plight of the displaced, the Red Crescent said they could be divided into five categories: those finding refuge with relatives; those living in government buildings; those renting appartments; those who have built shelters on unoccupied land; and, the most-deprived, those who have found refuge in mosques.
In a sole note of hope, the Red Crescent figures suggest that the search for a new shelter is not necessarily based on confessional or ethnic criteria.
Many Sunni and Shiite families are seeking refuge in mixed districts, contradicting the thesis of an inexorable community division.