Non-native Arabs may be deported
By Alissa J. Rubin
Los Angeles Times
Posted March 24 2005
BAGHDAD · In a bid to rid the country of foreign insurgents, the Iraqi government is using strict new residency rules to detain and expel non-Iraqi Arabs.
Any Arab without the proper permit can be detained, interrogated and asked to leave the country. The program has swept up Syrians, Sudanese, Saudis and Egyptians and resulted in the departure of about 250 people.
Far more are being detained -- as many as 200 a day in the Baghdad area alone -- although most are released within a few days. Though some are taken in for suspected terrorist activities, others are held with no evidence other than not having proper residency permits under the new rules. Such people can be deported without any evidence of having committed crimes.
"The fact is that some, not all, Arabs and foreigners have destroyed the reputation of Arab and foreign countries in Iraq," said Brig. Gen. Taif Tariq Hussein, who heads the Interior Ministry's residency office. "They have either helped in executing sabotage operations or they have carried out sabotage themselves.
"Both Arabs and some foreigners have been harmful to this society," he said.
The reason for the policy, established last month after consultations among Iraqi security agencies, is to stem the insurgency. But many Arabs who have lived in Iraq for years fear that they will be lumped in with wrongdoers and deported. Many of these tens of thousands of Arab residents do not have papers that meet the new requirements.
The Iraqi administration is making no promises and the incoming government could enforce the rules even more.
The new requirements are stiff. A person must have a passport or travel document from his or her native country, an entry visa for Iraq, and, if coming for work, a signed contract. The Ministry of Work and Social Security can decide not to honor the contract if the work can be done by an Iraqi. Anyone married to an Iraqi is exempt.
For decades, Baghdad had been a magnet for Arabs from other Middle Eastern nations who came for work and study. The new regulations have brought fear to foreign-Arab neighborhoods, some of which have existed for more than a generation.
Many non-Iraqis say they now face a campaign to make their lives difficult. They are being harassed by soldiers and police, they say, as well as being taken into custody for what once would have been minor paperwork irregularities.
"It is unfair that even those of us who have been here for decades should be treated like this," said Mustafa Mohammed, 43, a Syrian car mechanic who has been in Iraq since 1984 and who lives and works in the crime-ridden Bataween neighborhood of Baghdad.
Most deeply alarmed are Palestinians, whose community in Iraq numbers more than 30,000, most of them in Baghdad. Many came in 1948, when the British mandate in Palestine ended and the state of Israel was created.
They married other refugees and had children. Initially they did not become Iraqi citizens because they feared the move would threaten their right to return home. Later, Hussein'sgovernment issued Iraqi travel documents to Palestinians who wished to leave the country, but it refused to give them citizenship, wanting them to remain loyal to the cause of freeing their homeland from Israeli occupation. Hussein offered citizenship to other Arabs who wanted it.
Most Palestinians in Iraq have nowhere to go. Their hometowns are now in Israeli territory or under Israeli control, and Israeli officials have no interest in adding to the number of Palestinians in either area. Without residency documents or passports, Palestinians are also unwelcome elsewhere.
Iraq's deportation policy has been publicized in newspapers and through graffiti in some of Baghdad's central squares. The scrawled messages sound a note of hostility: "Arabs out of Iraq" and "We agree with the government -- Arabs go home." The Al Taakhi newspaper, one of Baghdad's major dailies, carried a headline last week that said, "Life Sentence for the Illegal Arab Residents."
The article quoted an anonymous official from the Interior Ministry saying, "The punishments are strict and will be imposed on the illegal residents. Some may even receive a life sentence."