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Iraq, like most countries in the Middle East, has played host to a significant Palestinian refugee population since the establishment of Israel in 1948 and ensuing armed conflict, an event that caused large-scale displacement of Palestinians from inside the borders of Israel.91 Unlike Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, Iraq did not sign an agreement with UNRWA, preferring to address the needs of the Palestinian refugees directly through the Iraqi state. Iraq was the only country to reject UNRWA help. There are no accurate statistics for the Palestinian refugee community in Iraq. Estimates range from 34,00092 to 90,000.93 Palestinians refugees from Iraq interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report put the number between 35,000-75,000.

The Palestinian refugee population can be roughly divided into three groups: Palestinian refugees from the 1948 conflict; Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Kuwait and other Gulf States following the 1991 Gulf War, when Yasser Arafat's then public support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait inflamed anti-Palestinian sentiments; and a significant number of Palestinians from other Arab states who had come to work or had resettled in Iraq.

Almost the entire Palestinian population lives in the capital of Baghdad, a small population, approximately 4,000, lives in the northern city of Mosul, and an estimated 700 are in the southern city of Basra.94 A large percentage of Iraq's Palestinian population is originally from Haifa. In Baghdad, Palestinians live primarily in the following neighborhoods: al-Mashtal, Baghdad al-Jadida, al-Salam, al-Doura, Karrada al-Sharqiyya, al-Batawin, al-Za'faraniyya, al-Baladiyyat and al-Hurriyya, although others are dispersed throughout the city. Many Palestinians lived in low apartment buildings built by the government. Some families were in government shelters, such as in schools. In al-Za'faraniyya, for instance, eighty families lived in a former school for the blind. Another eighty lived in a former orphanage. In some neighborhoods, families rented private homes.

Following the 1948 expulsions, Palestinian refugees who arrived in Iraq were housed in schools and military camps. Soon after, the Iraqi government began constructing temporary "shelter residential systems" to house the Palestinian refugees. Thereafter, in the 1970s, the government of Iraq constructed housing complexes for Palestinian refugees with basic services such as water, sewage, and electricity. The conditions in such shelters were poor. The government-constructed housing was inadequate for the rapidly growing Palestinian population. In response to housing needs, the Iraqi government began to rent private housing for Palestinian refugees, providing the housing free of charge. An estimated 63 percent of Palestinians in Iraq benefited from such government-provided housing.95

As Iraq's economy began to deteriorate and massive inflation set in following the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi government froze the rents it was paying to the landlords of homes occupied by Palestinians. By the end of the 1990's, the mostly Shi'a landlords where receiving next to nothing for the homes occupied by Palestinians-many of the Palestinians interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that their monthly rent (paid by the government) amounted to the equivalent of less than $1 a month. According to Iraqi law, landlords were prohibited from breaking rental agreements. Landlords forced to rent to Palestinians for inconsequential sums were, in effect deprived of their property. In 1999, a group of Shi'a landlords from the al-Tobji neighborhood tried to challenge the unfair rental agreements in court. They lost their case.96

The favorable housing arrangements enjoyed by Palestinians was only one source of the resentment against them held by some Iraqis. In order to improve his standing as an Arab leader, President Saddam Hussein manipulated the Palestinian cause (thereby fostering resentment amongst ordinary Iraqis), particularly after the second Palestinian intifadah began in October 2000, and the "Jerusalem Army" was created to aid the Palestinian cause.97 In addition, some Iraqis suffering under a strict sanctions regime were distressed by the government's announcement that it would be sending one billion euros to aid Palestinians living throughout the Middle East.98

While Palestinians living in Iraq were exempt from all forms of military service, including in the Jerusalem Army, they were subjected to other restrictions. Since 1950, Palestinians in Iraq have been provided with refugee travel documents.99 Those that were resettled in Iraq in the aftermath of 1948 remained registered as refugees. They still held Palestinian travel documents issued by the state, which they said made travel outside Iraq very difficult. They were also subjected to other travel restrictions imposed on Iraqis generally in the 1990s, such as the requirement to pay 400,000 dinar to obtain an exit visa. In early 2000, the Hussein government announced a new policy that Palestinians who had resided in the country since 1948 would be granted the right to own property in Baghdad.100 However, many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report said that until about a year ago, legal restrictions prohibiting them from registering homes, cars or telephone lines in their own name remained in force.101

Yasser Arafat's public support for Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait led to a closer identification in the public mind's between the Iraqi leadership and Palestinians. Many Iraqi opposition figures also resented the attention given to the Palestinian intifadah, feeling this drew attention away from the struggles of the Iraqi opposition.

However, the grievances expressed against the Palestinian refugee population should be addressed more appropriately to the government of Saddam Hussein, which cynically manipulated the Palestinian cause for its own purposes. It was the government of Saddam Hussein, not the Palestinian refugees, which appropriated private Shi'a homes to house Palestinian refugees, for example. Given the destitution of much of the Palestinian population, most had little choice but to accept what the Iraqi government gave them.

Other Refugees and Non-nationals
Foreigners in Iraq, including non-Palestinian refugees and other migrants interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report had mostly been living in Iraq for many years. There were more than 128,000 refugees (including Eritreans, Iranian Kurds, Palestinians, Sudanese, Syrians, and Turkish Kurds) living in Iraq in 2001.102 There were also more than 70,000 third country nationals (many of whom were migrant workers) living in Iraq in early 2003.103 Conditions in Iraq were difficult for refugees, although they were somewhat better for migrant workers.

Refugees mostly lived in camps ringing Baghdad, others lived in neighborhoods described as "slums" inside Baghdad and some groups, particularly Iranian Kurds, lived in northern Iraq. In and around Baghdad, the government of Iraq did not permit refugees to work, and their movement was restricted.104 In northern Iraq, outside of government-controlled Iraq, Iranian refugees lived in uncertain and unsafe conditions. Unknown assailants, allegedly agents from Iran, have assassinated about 300 Iranian refugees in recent years before 2001.105

Refugees from all nationalities sought protection and resettlement in other safe countries through the auspices of UNHCR. However, the government of Iraq assisted more refugees in Iraq than UNHCR - UNHCR assisted almost 39,000; but the government of Iraq provided basic food and medicines for some 89,000 refugees under U.N. Security Council Resolution 968.106 Acknowledging the contributions of the government of Iraq to refugees in its territory, the UNHCR mission chief in Baghdad, Daniel Bellamy said prior to the U.S.-led attacks that "the government of Iraq has been very, very generous with the refugees and they are treating them the same way they treat Iraqis."107 Migrant workers in Iraq were mostly self-sufficient.

91 See Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

92 See Palestinian Refugees in Iraq, Department of Refugee Affairs, Palestine Liberation Organization, 1999 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

93 U.S. Committee for Refugees, Iraq Country report, 2002.

94 See Palestinian Refugees in Iraq, Department of Refugee Affairs, Palestine Liberation Organization, 1999 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

95 See Palestinian Refugees in Iraq, Department of Refugee Affairs, Palestine Liberation Organization, 1999 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

96 Human Rights Watch interview with I.J., refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 29, 2003.

97 In February 2001, President Saddam Hussein announced the formation of a new paramilitary force, the Jaysh al-Quds [Jerusalem Army], with the aim to "liberate" Jerusalem. Iraqi males of military age, particularly Shi'a and Kurds, were often forced to "volunteer" for service in the Jaysh al-Quds. In addition, Saddam Hussein has openly provided "martyr" payments of $25,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers and $10,000 to the families of other Palestinians killed in the intifadah. See Human Rights Watch, Erased in a Moment: Suicide Bombing Attacks Against Israeli Civilians (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2002), pp. 100-101. In July 2002, an official from the Iraq-affiliated Arab Liberation Front (ALF) told reporters that President Saddam Hussein had provided an estimated $20 million in aid to Palestinians in the occupied territories since the outbreak of the second intifadah. Sky TV Broadcast of July 17, 2002.

98 Saddam Says Palestinian Solution Must Include Refugee Right of Return, Agence France Presse, January 16, 2001.

99 See Palestinian Refugees in Iraq, Department of Refugee Affairs, Palestine Liberation Organization, 1999 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

100 "Palestinians Resident in Baghdad Since 1948 to Own Houses," Agence France Presse, March 29, 2000 (quoting Zidane Khalaf al-Tae, Director General of Housing Registration in Baghdad).

101 In accordance with Decree No. 23 of 1992 passed by Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).

102 See U.S. Committee for Refugees, 2002 World Refugee Survey, p. 170.

103 See United Nations, Flash Appeal for the Humanitarian Requirements of the Iraq Crisis, Six Month Response, at 19.

104 See U.S. Committee for Refugees, 2002 World Refugee Survey, p. 173.

105 See U.S. Committee for Refugees, 2002 World Refugee Survey, p. 173.

106 UNHCR, Global Report 2001, p. 266.

107 "U.N. Refugee Body Ready to Accept 600,000 Refugees in Case of War," Xinhua News Service, February 25, 2003.

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