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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Iraq unrest displaces thousands
Shia Iraqis in Baghdad donate food for displaced people
Iraqis have been donating aid to help their own communities
More than 30,000 Iraqis have been displaced as a result of sectarian violence between the country's two main communities over the past month.

The figures from an Iraqi government ministry are echoed in findings by a UN-affiliated body, the International Organisation for Migration.

Tension between Iraq's Shia and Sunni communities was increased by the bombing of a key shrine in February.

Many of these internal refugees are now living in temporary camps.

The bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, five weeks ago set off a wave of violence between Iraq's two main religious communities.

Abandoning Baghdad

Almost every day victims of the sectarian bloodshed are found in Baghdad, their bodies dumped around the city.

They were greeting us in daylight and killing us during the night
Saad
Shia refugee from Baghdad

Since the capital has traditionally been the great melting pot of Iraq's different communities, the BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy reports, the exodus from there has been particularly marked.

Sunni families have fled north to the area known as the Sunni Triangle.

Shia have fled south, for example to the holy city of Najaf, where the local authorities are struggling to look after them.

It is only recently that sectarianism has taken root in Iraq, our analyst says.

The country has traditionally been nationalistic and rather secular with intermarriage between Sunni and Shia relatively common.

But now it is hard to see how the sectarian trend can be reversed, our analyst says.

It is coming from below - from the grass roots - because at a time of insecurity people now see local militias, often with a sectarian base, as the only force which can protect them.

And it is coming from above - from the political leaders in Baghdad - who have discovered they can gain more power and influence from building on sectarian loyalties than from appeals for national unity, our analyst adds.

Escaping death

Some of those displaced talked about their reasons for fleeing to Reuters news agency.

Iraq is at a very precarious point now and security is continuously deteriorating. Until security is stabilised people will continue to be displaced due to sectarian violence
Dana Graber, IOM

Sunni engineer Adnan al-Samarraie took his family from Baghdad to Tikrit after watching Shia gunmen kill a close friend in a restaurant.

"When I saw them killing Abu Omar, I knew my turn would be next," he said.

A Baghdad man who would only give his first name, Saad, said he had fled to the Shia city of Najaf after Sunni insurgents killed his two brothers in a raid.

It had shocked him to learn that some of the attackers were actually his neighbours:

"I knew them, they were greeting us in daylight and killing us during the night," he said.

'True figure higher'

Iraq's Ministry for Displacement and Migration estimates that almost 33,000 people have left their homes and the Swiss-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) counts about 30,000.

However, the IOM said the true figure could be much higher because most people have moved in with relatives or friends.

"Iraq is at a very precarious point now and security is continuously deteriorating," said Dana Graber, an IOM officer in Amman.

"Until security is stabilised people will continue to be displaced due to sectarian violence."

The Iraqi Red Crescent has told the BBC it is caring for more than 1,000 people in temporary camps.




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