Baghdad Squatters Face 15 Day Deadline

Gerrard Winstanley tony at
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 
terrorized Shiites.

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 
housing sitation.

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list