There were roughly 104,000 refugees and about a million internally displaced persons in Iraq in 1998. Known refugees in Iraq in 1998 included about 29,000 from Iran and 11,300 from Turkey – in both cases, mostly Kurds. The total also included some 62,600 Palestinians refugees and about 1,100 refugees of other nationalities, mostly Eritreans (574), Somalis (313), and Sudanese (220). The 800,000 internally displaced persons in the three northern governorates of Dohuk, Erbil, and Suleymaniyah included not only long-term internally displaced persons and persons displaced by Kurdish factional infighting, but also more than 150,000 persons, mostly Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkomans, more recently expelled from central-government-controlled Kirkuk and surrounding districts in the oil-rich region bordering the Kurdish-controlled north. Another 200,000 persons were internally displaced elsewhere in Iraq, mostly in the southeastern marshlands.

The international community maintained economic sanctions against Iraq for the ninth year. The UN Security Council's oil-for-food deal, an attempt to provide humanitarian exceptions to its sanctions, approved in May 1996, did not begin to provide humanitarian relief until April 1997. In 1998, it was still beset by political and bureaucratic obstruction and delays. On February 20, 1998, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1153, which more than doubled from $2.14 billion to $5.2 billion the value of oil Iraq is permitted to export every six months to pay for humanitarian goods, reparations, and weapons inspections. However, because of slumping oil prices, production problems, and slow UN approval of contracts, Iraq sold only $2.7 billion worth of oil during the six-month period ending in November, one-third of which was slated for war reparations and to offset UN costs.

Less than half of the medicine and health supplies purchased during that six-month period reached the population, largely because of transportation difficulties. In January 1998, the government revised its allocation criteria for pharmacies permitted to receive drugs so that Baghdad received about 40 percent, despite representing only 29 percent of Iraq's population. This led to shortages in the rest of the country, particularly acute in remote areas.

During 1998, malnutrition among children under five stood at 25 percent, better than the 32 percent malnutrition rate in 1997 among children under five, but still acute.

Internal Displacement, Central Iraq

In 1998, Baghdad intensified its systematic efforts to "Arabize" the predominantly Kurdish city of Kirkuk and its districts of Khanaqin, Makhmour, Sinjar, and Sheikhan at the edge of government-controlled Iraq near the Kurdish-controlled zone. To solidify control of this strategically and economically vital oil-rich region, the government expelled Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkomans – at times, entire communities – from these cities and surrounding areas. At the same time, it offered financial and housing incentives to Sunni Arabs to persuade them to move to Kirkuk and other cities targeted for Arabization. New Arab settlements were constructed on expropriated Kurdish land holdings.

Most expellees moved north to the Kurdishcontrolled governorates where they had relatives and the sympathetic support of persons sharing the same language and culture. To do this, however, they paid an additional price – those going north could not take their belongings with them. Given the brief time before expulsion, few victims of internal deportation could sell their properties and belongings before leaving, or receive a fair price for them. Kurds were forbidden from selling their homes to other Kurds or non-Arabs. The few who opted to move to predominantly Shi'a southern Iraq could take their belongings. Some expellees moved to the city of al-Ramadi to the west of Baghdad, although whether the choice of al-Ramadi was voluntary is unclear.

Officials of the ruling Ba'ath Party implemented the government's Arabization policy in Kirkuk and other cities, maintaining lists of neighborhood residents by ethnicity. According to the special rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Ba'ath Party members typically confiscated targeted families' identification documents and ordered them to vacate their homes and leave the vicinity within 48 hours. Often the police would detain one member of a family during this time. When the family was ready to leave, they would report to the police station to fill in a form saying that they were leaving voluntarily. Then, the officials would release the detained relative to the family and return the person's identity documents.

In the past, the authorities issued expulsion certificates ordering people to vacate their homes. However, the special rapporteur noted that the authorities stopped issuing such certificates "when they learned that the document was being used by asylum seekers outside Iraq as proof of their claims." Methods of expropriation also reportedly included demolishing villages and seizing food ration cards. The special rapporteur said that the first to be targeted for internal deportation were families of political prisoners and executed persons.

Although finding a credible estimate of the number of internal expulsions in 1998 was difficult, reports indicated that large numbers were involved. Iraqi exile groups produced purported Iraqi government documents ordering the expulsion of Kurds from Kirkuk and other towns. One such document, dated January 12, 1998, orders the expulsion of 1,468 Kurdish families from Kirkuk Province between April 15 and June 15. Another, dated July 13, 1998, orders the expulsion of 545 families from Kirkuk.

Northern Iraq

Many residents of northern Iraq have been displaced multiple times. In recent years, including 1998, people fled their homes temporarily during flare-ups of fighting and then returned. Thus, estimating the number of displaced people becomes highly speculative.

The UN Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS-HABITAT) estimates that more than 1 million people (out of a population of 3 million) have been internally displaced in the three northern governorates at one time or another.

According to a November report from the UN secretary-general, internally displaced persons in northern Iraq in 1998 consisted of a) persons in collective towns who were unable to return; b) persons who did not wish to return; and c) persons who had taken refuge in urban and semi urban areas, and who, because of their vulnerable position, needed water, sewage, and other infrastructural services. Counting only groups a and c, the secretary-general estimated that 800,000 people remained internally displaced in northern Iraq.

Needs varied among the displaced. For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assisted 120,000 internally displaced people in northern Iraq in 1998, whom ICRC described as displaced due to "fighting between rival Kurdish factions."

In fact, Kurdish factional infighting, although a significant cause of internal displacement in the north, was not the only cause. The displaced population also included people recently arriving from government controlled Iraq; about half of the displaced in northern Iraq were forced out before 1991, many during the "Anfal" campaign in the late 1980s when Baghdad forces wiped out about 4,500 Kurdish villages, including virtually all villages near the borders of Turkey and Iran. According to the ICRC, their beneficiaries still lacked permanent shelters, living instead in tents or in unheated, public buildings and in need of blankets, winter clothing, and heaters.

It was not clear whether either the UN secretary-general's count, or ICRC's beneficiaries, included the more than 150,000 Kurds estimated by the special rapporteur on Iraq for the UN Commission on Human Rights as having been displaced from Kirkuk and other areas as part of Baghdad's "Arabization" program.

In addition to serving the most destitute of the homeless, the World Food Program (WFP) also distributed food commodities to 3.2 million people in the north, essentially the north's entire population. Food production increased dramatically in northern Iraq, and nutrition improved as well. The malnutrition rate among children under five in the three northern governorates had dropped from 25.8 percent in December 1996 to 15.1 percent in April 1998.

The oil-for-food shipments to northern Iraq pass from government controlled Iraq, mostly through Mosul and Kirkuk where WFP maintains warehouses.

UNCHS-Habitat assisted in the rehabilitation of damaged or destroyed villages in the north during the year, including the complete rebuilding of 17 villages, construction of 122 schools, 31 health centers, and 56 water and sanitation projects. In November, Habitat estimated that 60 percent of the internally displaced within northern Iraq had returned to some of the villages that were destroyed during the Anfal campaign. Habitat reported progress in reconstructing another 32 destroyed villages.

On July 20, Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) announced that it had reached an agreement with Turkey to repopulate 400 abandoned villages along the border with Turkey. The KDP said that the Iraqi government had evacuated the villages in the 1970s and 1980s, but that the displaced could not return after 1991 because fighting continued between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the area along Iraq's border with Turkey. The KDP said that it would prevent the PKK from mounting guerrilla attacks on Turkey from Iraq. The Turkish Foreign Ministry did not confirm that it supported the KDP plan to repopulate the area. Late in the year, Habitat reported that fighting between the PKK and the KDP was interfering with its village rehabilitation projects.

In May and June, Turkish forces entered northern Iraq and joined with the KDP in an offensive against the PKK. Some civilians were reportedly forced to abandon the area, but the numbers involved and the duration of their displacement were not known. In late June, Reuters reported that Turkish troops had established bases in the Iraqi border towns of Betufa, Bekova, and Kani Massi, and that, with KDP assistance, public access to the area near the bases was closed.

In September, the United States brought Massoud Barazani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to Washington, where they signed a peace agreement intended to end four years of factional fighting. The agreement, which called for elections in the summer of 1999, also included U.S. security guarantees in the event of a Baghdad attack. The KDP and PUK also agreed to eliminate all PKK bases from the region and to safeguard the Turkish border.

In November, Turkish troops reportedly entered northern Iraq again in a military campaign directed against the PKK. The PUK claimed that Turkey dropped napalm bombs, resulting in thousands of persons becoming internally displaced.

The KDP-controlled sector of northern Iraq improved economically during 1998 because of an estimated $500,000 a day in customs and tax revenues generated by controlling sanctions-busting truck traffic between Turkey and Iraq and because of the oil-for-food arrangement that earmarks food deliveries for northern Iraq. The PUK, with no access to the Turkish border, did not share in the revenues that cross-border commerce generated.

Landmines continued to make northern Iraq dangerous and impeded displaced persons from returning to their homes. In November, the UN secretary-general reported studies estimating about 210 million square meters of minefields in Iraq, not including newly created or undiscovered ones.

Most known minefields were concentrated in the north (and in the areas separating the Kurdish- and government-controlled regions). The secretary-general reported 4.5 million square meters of minefields in Dohuk, 55.7 million square meters in Erbil, and 149 square meters in Suleymaniyah. He estimated that to clear these minefields would take between 35 and 75 years.

Shi'a in Southern Iraq

The Iraqi government has long been openly hostile to the Marsh Arabs, or Maadan, people living in the marshlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in a triangle-shaped region formed by the cities of Amarah, Basrah, and Nasseriyah. Following the suppression of the 1991 Shi'a uprising in southern Iraq, many opponents of the Baghdad regime fled to the marshes, and the Iraqi government intensified a pacification campaign it had been directing toward the Maadan since 1989.

Since 1991, government forces have burned and shelled villages, and built dams to divert water from the marshes to depopulate the area. Repressive policies in 1998 included denial of food rations to thousands of people allegedly associated with opposition groups.

The Iran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) claimed that the Baghdad government continued its campaign of artillery attacks and house burnings in the southern marshes in 1998. SCIRI reported artillery attacks in the Nasseriyah area in Thi Qar Province in September, and in the al-Abra and Nassiriya areas in October. According to the SCIRI, Iraqi troops surrounded villages, cut off electricity and food supplies, and initiated intense artillery barrages. SCIRI reported that the troops forced women and children to flee their homes, and arrested young men.

In the September offensive, troops of the Iraqi army's 11th division waged a scorched-earth campaign, burning the villages of Al-Khawiya, Al Abrat, and Al Sayid Yosha. According to the Iraq Foundation, a U.S.-based NGO founded by Iraqi exiles, Iraqi troops transported and placed about 20,000 civilians displaced from these villages and surrounding areas into tent encampments in Al-Rifa'i, a desert region north of Al-Fuhud, between Thi Qar and Maysan. The Iraq Foundation charged that Iraqi soldiers pressed the displaced people into forced labor, making them clear trees and reeds from the marshland area around Al-Fuhud.

Independent sources had no access to the area and could not confirm the allegations or provide a reliable estimate of the displaced people in the area.

In 1998, CARE International initiated the first project for internally displaced people in central or southern Iraq by rehabilitating two bomb-damaged buildings in Basrah Governorate. CARE estimated the project would benefit about 50 displaced families.

Refugees from Turkey

After the 1997 closure of the Atrush camp, which originally held about 14,000 Kurdish refugees from Turkey who arrived in 1994, camp residents split into two roughly equal groups. About 6,800 refugees who remained under the control of the politicized camp committee moved to Ain Sufni, a settlement south of Dohuk, where conditions were reportedly abysmal. Another 5,000 to 6,000 accepted an offer to live on land provided by the KDP. Some portion of these, 1,636, repatriated to Turkey by the end of 1998, assisted by UNHCR. Of these, 615 repatriated in 1998. The remainder resided in eight settlements in the KDP-controlled area, and were receiving some WFP food aid and assistance from a Japanese NGO.

UNHCR recorded 19 new refugee arrivals from Turkey in 1998.

In mid-February, the Ain Sufni residents were forced to flee their settlement because of fighting between the PKK and the KDP, which was reportedly supported by Turkish air raids and troops.

The refugees, mostly women and children, entered the landmine infested no-man's land between Iraqi government forces and Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. Near the Iraqi government checkpoint at Sheikhan, the refugees set up a makeshift settlement using tents and plastic sheeting that they brought from Ain Sufni. Conditions at Sheikhan were reportedly even worse than at Ain Sufni. Two refugees reportedly died from the cold within the first day of arrival, on February 15. The KDP blocked UNHCR from assisting the refugees in Sheikhan, and Iraqi troops prevented them from moving into Iraqi government territory. Reportedly, humanitarian agencies did gain access from the Mosul (government) side. WFP provided some food, UNHCR provided water, and the Iraqi Red Crescent provided medicine. However, the situation was precarious. The group decided to move to Makhmour in government-controlled Iraq. UN humanitarian agencies had no access to Makhmour; at one point, a UNHCR official was taken hostage by the refugee committee, which, along with the Iraqi government, tightly controlled camp entry and exit. The Iraqi Red Crescent reportedly was able to provide some assistance to the refugees. By year's end, 11,300 Kurdish refugees from Turkey remained in Iraq, of whom 8,478 were living in Makhmour. UNHCR had established access to Makhmour and was providing water, sanitation, and health assistance.

Iranian Refugees in Government-controlled Iraq

The official UNHCR figure for all Iranian refugees residing in Iraq stood at 28,979 at the end of the year, of whom 219 entered in 1998. Of these, 15,808 were at the Al-Tash camp in western Iraq, about 150 km (93 miles) from Baghdad. In Al-Tash, described as a slum, refugees were not permitted to work, and their movement was also restricted. Most of the refugees at Al-Tash are Kurds, many of whom have been affiliated with political opposition groups in Iran. Another 1,494 camp residents belong to the Ahle Haq religious minority.

In November, the UN special rapporteur on Iraq reported that Iraq was imprisoning in the Abu Ghraib prison in incommunicado detention "hundreds" of Fayli Kurds and other stateless persons (long-time residents of Iraq who the government claims are Iranian) who reportedly had "disappeared" during the Iran-Iraq War in the early 1980s.

No Iranian refugees were known to have repatriated in 1998.

Iranian Refugees in Northern Iraq

An estimated 3,700 Iranian Kurdish refugees resided in northern Iraq in 1998. The majority were believed to be ex-peshmergas of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran. Because UNHCR has offices in Dohuk, Suleymaniyah, and Erbil, it takes the position that Iranian refugees have the opportunity to seek resettlement from northern Iraq and should not move on to Turkey or other countries in search of better resettlement opportunities. However, no countries have diplomatic missions in northern Iraq to interview refugee resettlement applicants directly. The four Scandinavian countries are willing to review dossiers and accept cases. In 1998, such persons transited from northern Iraq via Baghdad in order to move to the third country. Third countries resettled 1,140 Iranian refugees from Iraq in 1998.

Tensions between UNHCR and Iranian refugees in northern Iraq ran high during the year, as refugees held demonstrations, sit-ins, and hunger strikes at UNHCR offices. Refugee demands included better food rations, faster refugee determination procedures, and greater opportunity for third country resettlement.

Iranian refugees in northern Iraq expressed high levels of concern about their safety in the region, saying that they could not be protected there. The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran and other Iranian opposition groups repeatedly alleged that Iranian government agents attacked their members in northern Iraq. A number of Iranians in northern Iraq have been killed in recent years by unknown assailants, and the Iraqi Kurdish officials in the region have made no arrests relating to these killings.

Iranian refugees live scattered in the Erbil and Suleymaniyah Governorates, not in refugee camps. The KDP maintains a camp for refugees and asylum seekers in Dohuk Governorate, called Zaweeta, but it only held a handful of Iranians at the end of 1998.

Although most of the people deported from Turkey via the Habur Gate were Iraqis, Turkey apparently deported significant numbers of Syrians and Iranians into northern Iraq before the KDP protested. In the summer, after Turkey deported a group of about 90 Syrians into northern Iraq who had been deported from Greece to Turkey, the KDP began to conduct screening interviews of possible deportees on the Turkish side of the border. At that point, the KDP became tougher about accepting non-Iraqis, although it did agree to accept Iranian "irregular movers" provided that UNHCR took responsibility for their care in northern Iraq.

Turkey reportedly deported fewer Iranians to Iraq in 1998 because fewer Iranians were crossing into Turkey from northern Iraq. This was because increased KDP control of the border prevented them from crossing into Turkey and because UNHCR-Ankara's policy on irregular movers (by which it declined to assist them or facilitate their resettlement to third countries) discouraged them from attempting to enter Turkey.

Other Groups

Approximately 63,700 refugees of other nationalities were in Iraq in 1998, about 62,600 of whom were Palestinians. Information on their living conditions was not available.

Little is known about the circumstances of some 100,000 stateless Arabs from Kuwait, called Bidoon, who were expelled from Kuwait into Iraq after the Gulf War.

Refugee Repatriation from Iran

About 9,200 Iraqi Kurdish refugees repatriated to northern Iraq from Iran in 1998. This brought to about 20,000 the number of Iraqi Kurds who have been assisted to repatriate to northern Iraq from Iran since 1994. More Kurdish refugees would have repatriated in 1998 except that the Iraqi government in July insisted that UNHCR provide it with a list of returnees and that Kurds repatriating to northern Iraq would first have to pass through central government controls. At that point, UNHCR suspended its involvement in the repatriation program, and the number of returning refugees dropped.

Iranian POWs

In April, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) organized the exchange of 316 Iranian POWS in Iraq for 5,584 Iraqi POWs in Iran. This was the first major exchange of POWs captured in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War since 1990. The ICRC indicated that some Iraqi POWs expressed a fear of persecution and were not returned, and said that all of the returns that did take place were voluntary.


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