Iraq make Syrians fleeing Assad feel unwelcome

NY Times:
Muhammed Muafak decided he had had enough when Syrian Army mortar shells struck near his house while his family was having the iftar meal to end the daily Ramadan fast. He packed up his 10-member household in Bukamal, the Syrian border town where they lived, and fled here to this Iraqi border town.

He expected a warm welcome. After all, his country had taken in 1.2 million Iraqis during their recent war, far more than any of Iraq’s other neighbors, and had allowed them to work, send their children to public schools and receive state medical care.

Instead, Mr. Muafak found himself and his family locked up in a school under guard with several hundred other Syrians, forbidden to leave to visit relatives in Iraq or to do anything else.

“We wish to go back to Syria and die there instead of living here in this prison,” said Abdul Hay Majeed, another Syrian held in a school building, along with 11 family members. Mr. Majeed was refused permission for that either, he and other refugees said.

Alone among Syria’s Muslim neighbors, Iraq is resisting receiving refugees from the conflict, and is making those who do arrive anything but comfortable. Baghdad is worried about the fighters of a newly resurgent Al Qaeda flowing both ways across the border, and about the Sunni opponents of the two governments making common cause.

The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Iraq, while officially neutral, has been supportive of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose ruling Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Last week, for instance, Iraq abstained from supporting a resolution by the Arab League calling for Mr. Assad to step down, calling it unwarranted interference in Syria’s internal affairs.

Though Syrians have been fleeing the unrest in their country for months, Iraq did not open its borders to refugees until last week, after protests from the Sunni tribes in Anbar Province. The Bukamal border crossing, near this city, is the most problematic one for Iraq, with the Syrian side now under the control of opposition forces.

The restrictions Baghdad has imposed on refugees proved so severe that on Friday, representatives of the Anbar tribes and hundreds of followers took to the streets in the 125-degree midday heat to protest the treatment of the newly arriving Syrians, many of whom have family and tribal connections with Iraqis here.
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It is puzzling that Iraq would side with Assad who facilitated much of the al Qaeda violence against Iraq.  The Times is probably right that it has something to do with tribal affiliation and animosity toward Sunni Arabs.   But, it also could be a sign that Iraq is supporting Iran which is supporting the despots in Damascus.

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