Iraqis Struggle to Leave, Somehow

With Omar Abdullah

BAGHDAD – More than three years after the invasion, Iraqis seem increasingly to want to leave the country. Reports come pouring in about Iraqi refugees overwhelming Syria, Jordan, and other nations in the region.

Last month, the United Nations released a report that more than 150,000 Iraqis have been displaced since February.

Iraqis who do not have a passport head for the Mansur Passport Office in Baghdad. Most spend the night there to be in with a chance.

"I had to spend the night in here just to make sure I’ll be listed as one of the first 50 who arrived here," Um Ali, a 40-year-old mother of four told IPS. "If they don’t list my name in the first 50, I will lose my chance to get a passport, and I’ll be forced to wait until I have a second chance."

Um Ali explained the system; no one at the passport office would.

"Each neighborhood in Baghdad has one day in the month for it. For example, Mansur has the tenth and al-Khadra is on the ninth and it goes on like this for six months, and if someone loses his turn, he will be forced to wait another six months."

But no one believes this system works perfectly well. Several people in the queue suggested that the government hands out about 100 passports a day, with the rest sold on a sort of black market.

Sataar Jubouri and his wife Najla were lucky enough to make the first 50. They had slept the night in their car, just around the corner from the office.

"We slept near the trash, and it smelt so bad, and there were flies all over the place," Najla said. But that was better than violence, she said.

The violence seems the biggest reason driving Iraqis out of the country.

"My two brothers were killed in the violence after the shrine bombing [in Samarra on Feb. 22], and two of my best friends were killed right in front of my eyes, so I think this is enough reason for me leave the country," said Um Ali.

Sataar and Najla want to leave because Sataar’s sister was kidnapped by one of Iraq’s many criminal gangs.

"They asked for a huge sum of money that we couldn’t afford," he said. "We couldn’t find the money in time, so that group raped her, then they killed her. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my wife. I can’t even imagine such a thing might happen to my wife."

Najla sounded shaken by the killing of her sister-in-law. "It was a big shock for all of us. It was something we just couldn’t take. It was a big crime, and I hope God will punish them for what they did."

Not everyone was lucky enough to be among the first 50. One man got into a scuffle with a police officer because families were being given priority over individuals.

"He doesn’t want to place my name on the list, and if I don’t get my name on that list I’ll be forced to wait for the next five months," said the man, Mazen.

"I don’t think this is fair. He says family first, so that means I will have to wait until all the families in Iraq sign their names on this list before I get my passport. Just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have the right to have a passport."

Sataar and his wife are a little more hopeful, though they do not know what they will do with themselves once they leave Iraq. "If I die from hunger outside Iraq, I’ll feel a lot better than being afraid day and night of being killed by some unknown person," Sataar said.