Tired of war, thousands of Iraqis want to go to U.S.

Thu Aug 5, 2010 8:46am EDT
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By Khalid al-Ansary

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Ahmed is desperate to get out of Baghdad, after Islamists threatened to kill him or his children because he worked for Western media after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Like thousands of others, he hopes to land a U.S. refugee visa to escape bombings, shootings and death threats in his homeland.

"Fundamentalists told me over the phone: if you don't quit work we will either kill you or one of your children," said Ahmed, a father of a son and two daughters who said he was afraid to give his full name.

The journalist hopes to join over 4.7 million Iraqis who have left their homes since 2003, in what the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East since 1948. Some 700,000 people, half the Arab population of Palestine in May 1948, fled or were forced to flee from their homes after Israel was created.

Violence has ebbed in Iraq since the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-07 but bombings and shootings still occur regularly. The number of civilian deaths from violence almost doubled in July compared to June, according to government figures.

Not all Iraqis flee abroad. Half of the 4.7 million displaced persons took refuge in other parts of Iraq, some squatting in public buildings, according to the UNHCR.

Ahmed hoped for better when he returned to Iraq after finishing a year as a visiting teacher in the United States in 2008. His dreams were quickly dashed.

"The security breaches turned from car bombs and roadside bombs into silenced guns, assassinations, zero services, no water, no power," he said. "I am concerned about my children's safety when they go to school."   Continued...