Iraqis in Syria: Again Facing Civil Unrest and Regional Religious Animosity

The escalating conflict in Syria has many of the one million Iraqi refugees there again facing civil unrest, as well as an intensifying regional sectarian animosity, according to the Wall Street Journal. The increasing instability has forced many Iraqis to flee once more: of the 112,000 Iraqis who have registered as refugees in Syria seeking resettlement in the West, about 40,000 closed their cases in the past year – the majority of them returning to an uncertain future in Iraq where many continue to face threats and persecution from armed militias. Another 19,000 Iraqis in Syria had their applications process delayed due to the security situation.

The Syrian conflict is dividing more and more along sectarian lines, according to the story, with the opposition drawing mostly from the Sunni majority, while President Bashar Al-Assad’s Alawite sect is a branch of Shia Islam. The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has claimed to be neutral to the Syrian conflict, and supported the United Nations resolution against the Syrian government last week. But the predominately Sunni Syrian opposition accuse Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, of turning a blind eye to the passage of Iraqi Shiite militamen traveling across Iraq to Syria to fight for President Bashar Al-Assad. Meanwhile, some Sunnis in Iraq claim to be arming the Sunni opposition in Syria, and hundreds of Iraqi Sunnis rallied in support of the opposition in Fallujah last week.

As a result, Iraqis in Syria face pressure to choose sides. Iraqi refugees had benefited from Syria’s open-door policy, and the government had allowed them to access services like education and healthcare. But now, the instability and tension is prompting many to leave. On one Iraqi woman’s return to Baghdad, Syrian opposition fighters stopped her bus at a checkpoint and demanded to know if the passengers were Sunni or Shiite. Another Iraqi man was ordered to say a prayer cursing Bashar Al-Assad by a gunman at a security checkpoint. The man has since returned to Iraq, and said: “Nobody has suffered like the Iraqi people… This should be a cautionary tale for the Syrians.”

As of Feburary 2012, there were literally no options available for Iraqi refugees stranded in Syria, other than to return to their persecutors in Iraq.

Read the full story here.