Since the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein, refugees and other non-nationals living in Iraq have been subjected to harassment, violent attacks, and forced evictions from their homes. Small groups of Iraqi men typically perpetrated the attacks, usually warning those targeted to leave Iraq. Hundreds of foreigners, particularly Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Sudanese, Somalis, among other nationalities, chose to flee as a result, feeling that their lives were at risk and that Iraq was no longer a safe place for them.
Direct Attacks and Threats of Physical Violence
In one case, on April 11, violence against a Palestinian family in Baghdad led to the death of an infant and the wounding of six others. In a refugee camp at al-Ruweished, Jordan on April 27, Human Rights Watch interviewed Nazima Sulaiman, a mother aged fifty, three of whose children were wounded in an attack on the family home, located off Mukhtar Street in the neighborhood of al-Hurriyya, close to al-Khashab Mosque. She said that on the day Baghdad fell, "fifteen armed men came to our house. They were not from our area ... They told us `This home is for Iraqis, you own nothing. Saddam was protecting you, go and ask Saddam to find you another home.'" Two days later the attack took place. "Had we known they were serious we would have gone," Nazima said.6
In the Baghdad neighborhood of al-Hurriyya on April 29, Human Rights Watch located Nazima's nephew, `Imad al-Din `Abdul-Ghani Muhammad, a thirty-seven year-old employee of the Iraqi Accounting Commission. He told Human Rights Watch:
The wounded were taken to al-Yarmuk and `Adnan Khairallah hospitals in the city. `Imad al-Din told Human Rights Watch that he did not know who was responsible for the attack:
Murtadha M., a taxi driver, lived in an old school in the neighborhood of al-Za'faraniyya with eighty Palestinian families. An Iraqi Shi'a friend warned them that people might attack the compound, so the Palestinians deployed armed guards. Arms were readily available for purchase on the street after the looting of the nearby al-Rashid military base, he said. Kalashnikovs sold by children went for as little as 5,000 dinars (about $2.50).
The first attack occurred on April 22. "They came in a Land Cruiser, about four guys," Murtadha said. "Three of them went into the school and one of them shot in the air." The Palestinians shot at the attackers and into the air, scaring the men off.8 Unknown civilians soon came to the building shouting threats: "Leave al-Za'faraniyya like you left Palestine!"9 Murtadha decided it was best to leave. He came to Jordan to inspect the conditions, leaving his family behind.
A widowed woman named Ibetsam and her teenage children left al-Za'faraniyya after U.S. forces entered Baghdad because as Palestinians they felt vulnerable to violence. She told Human Rights Watch: "Palestinians were afraid, saying the Shi'a will attack us. I left due to the general insecurity, but the possibility of a Shi'a attack was a factor."10
Other families were more directly targeted. One man, a baker named Samer, told Human Rights Watch how he and his wife fled their apartment in Baghdad's al-Baladiyyat neighborhood after armed men came to their building, shooting and demanding that Palestinians leave. Five days after U.S. troops entered Baghdad, he said, armed civilians stood in front of the main door, yelling that Palestinians had caused the war. "It's because of you!" they yelled. "Saddam gave you one million Euros and us nothing!"11
Samer and his wife moved to an old school in al-Hurriyya neighborhood where many Palestinians lived. The next day, they were visited by civilian men with Kalashnikovs, grenades, revolvers and knives. "They came in the afternoon to the entrance of the refugee center, yelling `Get out!'" Samer said. "They came to each room. [They] were Shi'a."12
A man named Muhammed, who worked as a customs official, said he and his family had left their apartment in Baghdad's Ta'mim neighborhood around April 21, after ten days of shooting and threats. The apartment was in a government-owned compound of three large buildings known in the neighborhood as the "Palestinian buildings." Forty-five Palestinian refugee families lived there rent free. He told Human Rights Watch:
After ten days of threats, Muhammed decided to move his wife, four children and one grandchild to the neighborhood of al-Baladiyyat, where many Palestinians live, but he soon decided to flee Iraq for Jordan. "There is no safety in Baghdad and I'm afraid for my daughters," he said from his tent in Jordan.14
Several of the Palestinian men in the neighborhoods of al-Baladiyyat and al-Hurriyya told Human Rights Watch that they were now armed and kept regular watch over their homes in shifts. One [name withheld] who was wounded in the shoulder in an exchange of fire during his shift in al-Hurriyya, said: "At the beginning they came to shoot in the air, just to scare us. They wanted to see how we would react, and whether we were armed. We are armed, we have to protect ourselves and our families. We are on watch duty all the time, day and night, on the lookout for any attackers."15 Another man, newly-married Ahmad Muhammad Sa'id, told Human Rights Watch: "We carry guns and other weapons left behind by the Iraqi army. We do that to protect ourselves and our families. Many people have died. I personally took part in the burying of bodies we found lying in the street. Because they were decomposing and smelling bad, we buried them near here."16 Most incidents appeared to have taken place late at night or in the early hours of the morning, but occasionally there are attacks during the day, such as having glass bottles thrown at homes inhabited by Palestinians. Sometimes they would receive advance warning of an impending attack from their Iraqi neighbors.
Expulsion of Palestinians from their Homes
The family of Khairiyya Shafiq Ali also lost their government-provided rent-free apartment in Baghdad: "People came to our house four times, only Shi'a. They had machine guns and rifles, and came in groups of three to five each time. They said, `Either you leave your home or pay 300,000 dinars a month (about $150). They threatened they would empty their guns in our heads They started after the fall of the government, approximately a week after. ...They shot bullets at our house. They told us, `Saddam is gone, you are nothing here. You own nothing in Iraq, if you want to leave, take only your clothes."18
Jihad J., aged twenty-four, explained to Human Rights Watch how his family had moved into their rent-free home in the al-Tobji area of Baghdad during the 1980s. He described how his family had been evicted:
A crane driver named Wisam A. explained how he, his wife and four children were forced to leave the house they had rented in the neighborhood of al-Khadra', where there are few Palestinians. Unlike many other Palestinians, he had paid substantial rent, 400,000 dinars per year (about $200), for his home.
Armed men surrounded his home three times, he said, each time shooting in the air and demanding the family leave. Each time he and his neighbor, a Shi'a, were able to scare off the armed men by firing automatic weapons into the air. After the third attack, on April 25, Wisam decided to leave.20
Between April 9 and May 7, 344 families were either expelled from or were forced to leave their homes in Baghdad [comprising 1612 individuals], according to a list with names and addresses compiled by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Baghdad.21 Many of those evicted who did not flee to Jordan went instead to a makeshift relief center set up inside the Haifa Sports Club in al-Baladiyyat. As of May 7, 107 Palestinian families comprising 500 people were living in tents provided by the Iraqi Red Crescent on the football pitch of the sports club. 22 In the middle of the football pitch is what camp organizers believe to be an unexploded American mortar or missile lodged under the ground, and roped off from camp residents. Despite repeated promises, as of May 7, U.S. forces had not come to take the weapon away.
Those made homeless also included twenty-four families whose two apartment blocks in al-Baladiyyat had been destroyed during the U.S.-led bombing of Baghdad. The director of the sports club and physical education instructor, Qusay Rif'at, told Human Rights Watch that he and his colleagues at the club were expecting the number of expelled families to continue rising, and were attempting to make arrangements to accommodate them.23 Some of those already expelled had been renting private homes from Iraqis, but they also included some families living in shelter accommodation or state-funded homes. They came from various neighborhoods in Baghdad.
A father of three, thirty-six year-old Saber Jamil Shahin, was obliged to leave his home in al-Mashtal on around April 21:
According to other families, they were given notice to leave their homes without the option of paying a higher rent. Some received notice to vacate their home in al-Baladiyyat within twenty-four hours, such as fifty-six year-old Musa `Abdul-Muttaleb and his family of five. He was also being accommodated at the nursery.25 Others received two weeks' notice, including the family of Muhammad Ahmad Abdul-Jawad, who were living in an apartment in al-Habibiyya. Human Rights Watch met them at the relief center at the Haifa Sports Club, registering their names for tent accommodation. Muhammad's wife said:
Twenty-seven-year-old Bassam Rizq, a Palestinian salesman from the Baghdad neighborhood of al-Baladiyyat, had been renting his apartment for the rate of 50,000 dinars per year (about $25). In June 2001, the owner of the apartment went to court to challenge the locked-in rental agreement, but lost. Four days after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government, the Shi'a owner arrived at the apartment with a group of armed relatives, and told Bassam to leave: "They gave me three days to leave. They said, either we will kill you, or we will take one of your children."27
Bassam also lost his car, which he had registered in the name of an Iraqi friend, as Palestinians were not allowed to own cars in their own name. When the government collapsed, the friend appeared and took the car, telling Bassam, "sue me."28 Bassam expressed the difficulty faced by many Palestinians from Baghdad: "I don't want to return to Baghdad. Where would I live or work?" 29
Other Palestinians lost their homes in less violent ways, but their prospects for finding new housing is poor, given the general hostility to Palestinians in Baghdad. "Fatima," (not her real name) a forty-two-year-old resident of al-Jadida, described how she and many other families lived rent-free in a seven-apartment building for which the Iraqi government paid an annual rent of 20,000 dinar (about $10). When the government collapsed, the landlord demanded that all of the Palestinian residents leave the building, explaining he needed to get market-rate rents.30
In talking to a group of some fifteen Palestinian men about their current predicament, the following views were expressed which reflected the feelings of many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch:
Third Country Nationals
Thirteen Somali men were forced from the Baghdad home where they all lived. "They came with guns and said `leave our country,'" said a Somali man named Salah A., aged thirty-five. The thirteen men left their house and set out for the bus station. On the Falluja highway, they were stopped by a group of armed Iraqis, two of the men said. The Iraqis forced the Somalis to line up on the road, saying they would be shot. At that moment, there was shooting down the road. The Iraqis turned in that direction and the Somalis, sensing their chance, quickly left. "We became safe from the danger," Salah remarked.33
Another Somali, twenty-three-year-old Muhammad, was wounded in a U.S. coalition strike on Baghdad on April 9 and hospitalized with a shrapnel wound to the leg. When the government of Saddam Hussein collapsed in Baghdad, angry armed Shi'a civilians came to his hospital bed three times, asking how much money he had received from the Iraqi government, and threatened to kill him. Other Iraqis intervened, but when Muhammad's wound was healed, they advised him to leave Iraq because the situation was too dangerous for foreigners.34
At the al-Tash refugee camp, Human Rights Watch spoke to scores of the residents, most of whom had been living there since 1982 or were born there. Of these, the majority were civilians living in border areas in Iran occupied by Iraq during the first year of the Iran-Iraq war, including Qasr-e-Shirin. They were displaced and brought by the Iraqi authorities to al-Tash. Other camp residents are members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups, principally the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), and had fled because of continuing crackdowns on opposition activity in Iran.
One spokesperson for the camp residents and a KDPI member, Abdullah Hassan Zadeh, told Human Rights Watch: "We are refugees in name but in reality we are hostages. The Iraqis took us from our homes and brought us here. We have been in this camp for twenty-three years and no one has come to see us before."36 He went on to say that since the end of the war, the refugees in the camp have been very apprehensive about their security and welfare, given that there was no state control over law and order. Abdullah continued:
Several of the men interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had bought AK-47s, handguns and other weapons on the black market for protection, and that they kept regular watch over the camp. One of them [name withheld] said:
Many of the camp residents also expressed concern about their personal safety if they traveled outside the camp, namely to the town of al-Ramadi to buy goods. They said their fears were based on incidents in the past in which a number of the young men living in the camp had gone missing or were found dead. One twenty-one year old resident who was born in al-Tash, Anwar `Abdul-Rahman Muhammad, told Human Rights Watch: "Some people from the camp have disappeared. For example, there was Muhammad `Ali Mirza, who has been missing since 1996. He was about thirty-five years old. He went out of the camp one day to buy some goods and never came back. There was also Mukhtar Hussain, aged twenty-one. His body was found near the camp and he had been killed."40 The residents said these incidents had taken place when the Iraqi government had the law and order situation under control, and feared that because there was no official authority left, such incidents might recur or become more frequent.
Fears over the security situation was the major reason cited by most refugees for their flight out of al-Tash camp. However, they also expressed concern about their economic situation and their dwindling food and water supplies. They told Human Rights Watch that they used to receive twenty-five dinars per person from the Iraqi government, but that since 1991, the general decline in the economy had made this sum worthless. Consequently, they generated income by buying goods in al-Ramadi and selling them on the black market, and that this economic activity was no longer possible since many of the refugees felt unsafe to leave the camp. A member of the camp committee, Muhammad Reza'i, told Human Rights Watch that a delegation representing the refugees had gone to Baghdad on April 22 to seek help from the ICRC, principally because of the dire humanitarian situation in the camp. He said that their food supplies were running out and they had no medical staff to run the clinic:
While Human Rights Watch was at al-Tash, military personnel from the U.S. Army's Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, based in al-Ramadi, arrived at the camp. They said they had been charged with making an assessment of the needs of the residents, and discussed with camp representatives matters relating to basic services, including water, electricity, medical needs and security issues.
As for the future, the camp residents called for a durable solution to their plight. According to their spokespersons, the majority of the refugees wanted to return to Iran, particularly those civilians who had been displaced during the Iran-Iraq war. They said many had returned through illegal means between 1996 and 1999, mainly through paying Iraqi Intelligence (Mukhabarat) personnel 300,000 dinars per family in return for being smuggled into Iran. Those among them who were politically active in opposition groups said they wanted to be resettled in other countries. Since 1991, when the camp's population numbered some 30,000, an estimated 4,000 people were resettled in other countries through the UNHCR. A number of refugees in al-Tash told Human Rights Watch that they had been accepted for resettlement in Canada, Australia and other countries, but that Iraqi intelligence personnel prevented their departure unless they were paid large sums of money.
Responsibility to Protect Refugees and other Foreigners in Iraq
Military commanders on the spot must prevent and where necessary suppress serious violations involving the local population under their control or subject to their authority. The occupying force is responsible for protecting the population from violence by third parties, such as newly formed armed groups or forces of the former regime.45
Ensuring local security includes protecting persons, including refugees and other foreigners, minority groups, and former government officials, from reprisals and revenge attacks. Unless the forces of the occupying powers are facing hostilities, the use of force is governed by international standards for law enforcement. That is, only absolutely necessary force may be used and only to the required extent, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.46
The occupying power should prevent third parties from attacking or forcibly displacing civilians, especially particularly vulnerable groups such as the 128,000 refugees who were living in Iraq just prior to the war. All women, including refugees, should be protected against any attack, in particular rape. Child refugees must also be afforded appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance. All civilians inside Iraq must be treated with the same consideration by the occupying powers without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on national origin, race, religion or political opinion. Finally, the occupying powers must ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches all civilian populations in need, including foreigners or refugees.47
As the occupying power, the coalition is responsible for ensuring that food and medical care is available to the population under its control, facilitating assistance by relief agencies, and ensuring and maintaining public health and hygiene. The United States and its allies must provide humanitarian personnel with safe and unimpeded access to populations in need, and allow humanitarian agencies to operate independently from any military or political authority. Where the military directly provides humanitarian assistance, this should be distinguished clearly from the efforts of humanitarian agencies, so as to avoid confusion about the latter's neutrality.
4 United Nations Department of Public Information, "Update," April 30, 2003.
6 Human Rights Watch interview with Nazima Sulaiman, al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 27, 2003.
7 Human Rights Watch interview with `Imad al-Din `Abdul-Ghani Muhammad at his home in al-Hurriyya, Baghdad, April 29, 2003. He also told Human Rights Watch that several days after the incident, "some people came and said they wanted to move into the house, even though it was completely wrecked. We told them that there was an unexploded bomb in the house, so they got scared and left. I picked up the bomb and placed it on the roof of the building. I didn't know what else to do with it. There are still families living on the lower floor. They know there's a bomb there but they have nowhere else to go. About ten days ago we decided to talk to some Americans to tell them about the bomb so they could come and remove it. We tried to see someone senior but it was difficult. Finally we spoke to one of the soldiers stationed nearby. He spoke on his telephone to someone and then told us they would come and look at the bomb within five days. We wanted them to come straight away but they wouldn't. Maybe they thought it was a trap or an ambush. Anyway no one has come. It has been ten days since we told them about it, and the bomb is still there."
8 Human Rights Watch interview with Murtadha M. (last name withheld), refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 28, 2003.
10 Human Rights Watch interview with Ibitsam Yahya al-Assad, refugee camp outside of al-Ruweished, Jordan, June 27, 2003.
11 Human Rights Watch interview with Samer (last name withheld), refugee camp outside of al-Ruweished, Jordan, June 27, 2003.
13 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad (last name withheld), refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 28, 2003.
15 Human Rights Watch interview with a Palestinian man [name withheld], al-Baladiyyat nursery, Baghdad, April 28, 2003.
16 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Muhammad Sa'id, al-Baladiyyat nursery, Baghdad, April 28, 2003.
17 Human Rights Watch interview with Ibrahim Khalil Ibrahim, refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 27, 2003.
18 Human Rights Watch interview with Khairiyya Shafiq Ali, refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 27, 2003.
19 Human Rights Watch interview with Jihad J., refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 27, 2003.
20 Human Rights Watch interview with Wisam A., refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 28, 2003.
21 Palestine Liberation Organization, Public Committee, Committee of Relief and Funds, "The Families Evicted From Their Homes," May 7, 2003.
22 Human Rights Watch interviews with `Abdul-Salam Yusuf `Uthman, Haifa Sports Club, al-Baladiyyat, Baghdad, April 28, 29, and May 7.
23 Human Rights Watch interview with Qusay Rif'at, Haifa Sports Club, al-Baladiyyat, Baghdad, April 28, 2003. He also provided Human Rights Watch with information he had recorded of fatalities and injuries among Palestinians in several neighborhoods during the war, most of which he attributed to sniper fire and cluster bombs.
24 Human Rights Watch interview with Saber Jamil Shahin, al-Baladiyyat nursery, Baghdad, April 28, 2003.
25 Human Rights Watch interview with Musa `Abdul-Muttaleb, al-Baladiyyat nursery, Baghdad, April 28, 2003.
26 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Ahmad `Abdul-Jawad and family, Haifa Sports Club, al-Baladiyyat, Baghdad, April 29, 2003.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with Bassam Rizq, refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, Jordan, April 27, 2003.
30 Human Rights Watch interview, refugee camp outside al-Ruweished, April 28, 2003. Name withheld on request of the witness.
31 Prime Minsiter of Iraq between 1958-1963.
32 Human Rights Watch discussion with a group of Palestinian men at a state-funded shelter, al-Hurriyya, Baghdad, April 29, 2003.
33 Human Rights Watch interview with Salah A. and Oskar M., April 28, 2003, Camp B outside al-Ruweished, Jordan.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad (last name withheld), June 28, 2003, Camp B outside al-Ruweished, Jordan.
35 Comprising some 2,300 families, according to the camp residents.
36 Human Rights Watch interview with `Abdullah Hassan Zadeh, al-Tash Garrison, Iraq, April 27, 2003.
37 The principal Arab tribe in the province of al-Anbar is the Dulaim. Other tribes are also present in smaller numbers, including al-Jubbur, al-Shummar, al-`Ubaidat and al-Hamdan.
38 Human Rights Watch interview with `Abdullah Hassan Zadeh, al-Tash Garrison, Iraq, April 27, 2003.
39 Human Rights Watch interview with an Iranian Kurd [name withheld], al-Tash Garrison, Iraq, April 27, 2003.
40 Human Rights Watch interview with Anwar `Abdul-Rahman Muhammad, al-Tash Garrison, Iraq, April 27, 2003.
41 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Reza'i, al-Tash Garrison, Iraq, April 27, 2003.
42 State responsibility under international law is linked to each state's sovereign right to exercise its jurisdiction. See e.g. The Case of the S.S. Lotus, P.C.I.J. Ser. A. No. 10, 1927.
43 See e.g. Mavrommatis Palestine Concessions, P.C.I.J. Ser. A. No. 2, 1924.
44 Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1907), art. 43 (the occupying power "shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety.").
45 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) (Fourth Geneva Convention), arts. 29, 47 (art. 29: "The Party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons [civilians] may be is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents...").
46 See, e.g. U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, 27 August to 7 September 1990, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 at 112 (1990).
47 See Fourth Geneva Convention, art. 55 ("To the fullest extent of the means available to it the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.").