09 28 06 Quarter million Iraqis flee

Quarter million Iraqis flee sectarian violence
posted on: 9/28/2006 9:31:30 AM

Quarter million Iraqis flee sectarian violence

By Ahmed Rasheed and Peter Graff2 hours, 27 minutes ago

A quarter of a million Iraqis have fled their homes and registered as refugees in the past seven months, data released on Thursday showed, amid an upsurge in violence that has accompanied the Ramadan holy month.

The sectarian killing continued in Baghdad, where police said they had found the bodies of 40 victims -- bound, tortured and murdered -- in the last 24 hours.

The United States says violence in Iraq has surged in the last two weeks, with this week counting the most suicide bombs of any week since the war began in 2003.

U.S. forces predicted a surge in violence with Ramadan and have proven right so far, with bombings and clashes mounting since Sunni Muslims began observing the holy month on Saturday.

The registered refugee figures showed 40,000 families -- 240,000 people -- claiming assistance, up from 27,000 families in July. The figures do not include an uncounted number of Iraqis who have moved home without claiming aid.

"The reason for this increase is that the security situation in some provinces has deteriorated considerably, forcing people to leave their homes in fear for their lives," said Migration Ministry spokesman Sattar Nowruz.


A car bomb and a roadside bomb exploded in quick succession in the Saadoun district of central Baghdad on Thursday, killing four people and wounding 38, police said. At least five other bombs went off in the capital, killing at least three and wounding 30.

Mortar rounds landed on a district in the southwest of the capital killing four. Bombs exploded in Mosul and Numaniya.

U.S. commanders have focused their efforts on the capital Baghdad over the past two months and say they have managed to reduce the number of sectarian death squad killings in the scattered neighborhoods they have targeted.

But the killers seem to have moved to other neighborhoods and violence has not subsided in the city as a whole.

Death squads were returning to one of the areas the Americans had cleared, Ghazaliya, because police were allowing the killers back in, said a senior U.S. military official who briefed reporters under condition he not be named.

"We would ascribe that to probably some measure of some element in MoI facilitating the re-entry of folks into the area," said the official, referring to the Ministry of the Interior which oversees the police.

He described a surge in death squad killings since February by militants within the Mehdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, including some who had become "rogue" and were no longer under Sadr's control.

The death squads have been seeking out victims using lists of targets and placing them before clerics who give religious sanction to their killings, he said, giving one of the most detailed descriptions of U.S. intelligence on the violence.

Since June they have carried out mass kidnappings, often of dozens of people stopped at a roadblock and separated out by their religion. They are held, tortured and killed.

"The hallmark we looked at frankly was individuals who had been hands bound, shot in the back or head, often, very often, indicated signs of torture on the body," he said.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters.