Baghdad Squatters Face 15 Day Deadline
tony at tlio.org.uk
Tue Feb 20 14:27:55 GMT 2007
Baghdad Squatters Face Deadline to Leave
[click here for an extra audio version of the report]
by Anne Garrels
Morning Edition, February 20, 2007
As Baghdad neighborhoods have been redrawn along sectarian lines, tens
of thousands of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes. Many have
becomes squatters, occupying houses abandoned by others.
The Iraqi general leading the new security crackdown has said those
illegally occupying houses must leave within 15 days or provide proof
they're renting the property from the legal owners. But reversing the
tide of sectarian cleansing in the capital won't be easy.
When Iraqi troops recently ordered Sunnis to leave houses they were
illegally occupying in Gazalia, frantic residents appealed to the
local American commander for help.
They said they had nowhere else to go. They had been driven from
Shiite neighborhoods and had moved to houses abandoned by similarly
The Iraqi army's demands caught U.S. Capt. Eric Peterson by surprise.
He has since reached an agreement with local forces that suspended the
effort to kick people out. There are more pressing security problems
right now, Peterson said.
Where possible, he is trying to legalize the living arrangements
helping people swap homes, or arrange for leases. But Peterson says
the process will take time.
To entice people to return to their homes, the government has promised
about $200 for any family willing to move back. But Col. Jeff
Peterson, the U.S. commander in the volatile South Dora neighborhood
of Baghdad, says the sectarian divide is hard to overcome quickly.
When Abdul Ameer Ayad heard about the government's new policy on
squatters, he panicked. He is a Shiite who fled the Al Kadra
neighborhood after many other Shia were killed there.
In Hurriyah, Moqtada al-Sadr's office gave Abdul the house of a Sunni
family who had moved out.
The local office for Sadr the radical Shiite cleric knew where the
abandoned houses were. More often than not, militiamen from Sadr's
Mehdi Army forced the Sunnis out.
Abdul doesn't like that process. He does not agree with sectarian
cleansing. But he says he had no choice. It was the only way to keep
his family safe.
"The government can say whatever it wants, but if it tells me to
leave, I will not," he said in Arabic. "Where can I go?"
Abdul says Shia who have tried to go back to their homes have been
Abdul sympathizes with the Sunni family now living in his old house,
but not everyone feels that way.
Scarred by having to flee their cherished homes, many Iraqis refuse to
give squatters the legal right to live in their houses. And for some
squatters it's hard to find the owners.
The family who helped kick out 31-year-old Haidar Jassim is now asking
for the legal right to live in his house. Fighting back tears, Haidar
rejects their claim. He says they occupied his house and threw his
sister and her possessions outside.
Yet if he doesn't give them a lease, he fears the neighbhors will harm
another sister, who has stayed in the neighborhood.
Fearing eviction, squatters are now fueling a flourishing market in
faked rental agreements. In the ongoing chaos, there's no real way to
check and there is "a crisis of trust," as one Baghdad resident
says, leaving much room for extortion and threats to resolve the
More information about the Diggers350