Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Palestinians Try To Flee Iraq, But Are Stopped By Jordan

By Kirk Semple
New York Times
March 21, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 20 — More than 100 Palestinians fleeing violence in Baghdad and seeking refuge in Jordan have been denied entry by Jordanian border officials for not having proper entry permits, the spokesman for the Jordanian government said Monday.

The Palestinians have remained at the border in the hope of crossing, but the Jordanian government has closed it pending a resolution of the matter, the spokesman, Nasser Judeh, said in a telephone interview from the capital, Amman.

In recent weeks, as the country has experienced a surge in sectarian violence, Palestinians have been increasingly singled out by Shiite militias, because they were Sunni Arabs and because they had enjoyed certain privileges under Saddam Hussein. Many Palestinians were members of the Baath Party, and Mr. Hussein granted them free schooling and free housing, among other favors.

Residents of Baladiyat, a Baghdad neighborhood in which Palestinians are concentrated, say that in recent weeks, dozens of people have been kidnapped and many have turned up dead. The residents have accused Shiite militias in the killings.

In response to the violence, residents said Monday, several more groups of Palestinians were planning to travel to the border in the hope of crossing into Jordan.

Most of the Palestinians stopped at the border over the weekend had been residents of a housing complex that the Baath Party created for Palestinians who fled to Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948. On Sunday, they arrived at the border crossing in two buses, government officials and Baladiyat residents said, and were permitted to pass through the Iraqi checkpoint but were turned back on the Jordanian side.

They remained near the border, Mr. Judeh added, and some returned to the Jordanian checkpoint on Monday to try again.

"This is not an open door," Mr. Judeh explained. "We can't just let people in because they are at the border." He said Jordanian officials were in contact with their Iraqi counterparts to settle the matter.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has dispatched officials to the border to review the situation, Yara Sharif, an agency spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Millions of Shiite pilgrims converged on the southern holy city of Karbala to commemorate the final day of mourning for Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, who died in A.D. 680. In recent days, several worshipers were killed during the pilgrimage, but a heavy security force patrolled Karbala on Monday and there were no reports of major violence.

The Iraqi police found nine bodies in Baghdad on Monday, each handcuffed and blindfolded with gunshots to the head, in the latest indication of a wave of sectarian vengeance sweeping the capital.

The bodies brought to more than 210 the number of victims of execution-style killings dumped and found in the streets and fetid swales of the capital in the past two weeks.

While bodies have turned up in the city periodically since the invasion, the frequency of such reports has leapt since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine last month in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. That attack provoked an eruption of reprisals, mostly by Shiite militias in eastern Baghdad against Sunni Arabs and their mosques, leaving hundreds dead.

The authorities have not declared a motive for most of the slayings since then, but many followed a pattern usually associated with sectarian reprisal killings, with the victims, many of them Sunni Arabs, pulled from their homes by gunmen and hauled away to their death.

Police investigators in Salahaddin Province have accused American troops of executing 11 civilians, including several children, during a raid last Wednesday on a house in Ishaqi, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said Monday. According to the investigators, the Americans had lined up the civilians and shot them, then killed livestock and destroyed the house, the official said.

A local police commander in Ishaqi told Knight-Ridder Newspapers that an autopsy had detected bullet wounds in all the victims' heads.

The American military admitted at the time that it had demolished the house using a ground attack and airstrikes, but only after insurgents began firing from the building. Three civilians — two women and a child — and one insurgent were killed in the attack, American officials said, and another insurgent was captured.

"The allegations do seem unlikely to me, but obviously we'll cooperate with local authorities if they ask for our assistance," an American military spokesman in Baghdad, Maj. Tim Keefe, said Monday. He said he did not know whether the military was conducting its own investigation.

In Baghdad, an improvised bomb exploded Monday under a vehicle carrying commandos from the Interior Ministry and several detainees, killing three of the commandos and three detainees in the Karrada neighborhood, and wounding two commandos and a detainee, a ministry official reported.

The wounded were taken to Yarmouk Hospital, where commandos, angered by the death of one of their men, attacked the injured detainee, a hospital official said. As doctors and hospital guards tried to intervene, the official said, commandos began firing their weapons into the air, prompting the doctors to walk off the job until they were provided with sufficient security.

Members of the medical staff at Yarmouk have frequently complained about the interference of unruly and violent Iraqi security forces in the emergency room. Weapons are prohibited inside the building, but they are ubiquitous nonetheless.

Also on Monday, a bomb exploded inside a coffee shop in a Sunni district of Baghdad, killing 3 people and wounding 22, the police said. A bomb also exploded under a bus parked outside a restaurant in eastern Baghdad, killing 4 people and wounding 10.

A group of 20 insurgents attacked the Iraqi Army headquarters in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, using mortar bombs and heavy machine guns, but fled after American helicopters swooped into the area, said Capt. Raed Hussein al-Jumaili of the Iraqi Army. There were no reported casualties in the firefight.

The police in Kirkuk found the bodies of two Iraqi soldiers who had been kidnapped two days before. The victims had been stabbed to death, the police said.

Ali Adeeb and Khalid W. Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Kirkuk.

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