Friday, September 07, 2007

Walid comments on lack of Iraqi Muslims being allowed in USA as refugees

Agence France Presse -- English

September 6, 2007

Thursday 4:06 AM GMT

Sectarian tensions rise among US Iraqis

BYLINE: Mira Oberman

LENGTH: 889 words

DATELINE: DETROIT, Michigan, Sept 6 2007

In a modest home in a Detroit suburb, stands a small shrine to a man killed by a car bomb in Iraq. Three women sit next to the yellowing flowers and pass around photos of others killed in the conflict.

As the daily violence in Iraq claims even more lives, tensions are rising here among US Iraqis over the refugee crisis, with many preferring solutions along solidly sectarian lines.

"By the time we start praying for one, we hear news that there's another one kidnapped or killed," said Sarah Farg, a Christian who fled Saddam Hussein's regime 15 years ago.

"It's the same in every Iraqi house" in Detroit, Farg told AFP, adding she fears for dozens of family members left behind in Iraq.

"What I can I do? I hope somebody will listen to us and to do something for every Christian there, not just my cousins and my sisters, but for everyone there."

The Christians -- who are the largest and most established group of Iraqis in the United States -- say they are the most deserving of entry to the United States because they are the most vulnerable: a religious minority with no militias or tribal ties to protect them.

But the Sunnis bristle at these pronouncements and say travel permits should be handed out evenly among the refugee population, not just to those with family ties in the United States.

The Shiites -- a more radical group comprised primarily of those who fled in the 1990s after the first Gulf War -- say they don't want any "Baathists" to be allowed to export to the United States the violence plaguing Iraq.

Here the Sunnis bristle again, saying fear-mongering about "Baathists" -- followers of late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein -- is merely a code-word for keeping Sunnis out.

Meanwhile, the mayor of the Detroit suburb of Warren with a large Iraqi community has vowed to protect the town with a high unemployment rate from being "unfairly burdened" with thousands of refugees.

An estimated 4.2 million of Iraq's 27 million people have fled their homes because of sectarian violence, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

More than half are displaced within Iraq, barely surviving in makeshift camps that are inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons, while most of the rest have fled to neighboring Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

But less than 1,000 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the United States since the war began, and Washington, which led the 2003 invasion, has been widely criticized for not doing enough to address the crisis.

The US seems unlikely to deliver on a promise to admit another 7,000 before the fiscal year ends October 31 since only 190 had been admitted as of July 31, the latest figures available.

The State Department does not collect data on which ethnic groups those refugees belong to.

But the agency charged with resettling many of the refugees in the Detroit area, Lutheran Social Services, said nearly all of the 83 Iraqis scheduled to arrive in August were Christians.

"If there's preferential treatment given to Christian refugees while Muslims are the primary refugees then this is a biased policy that has international ramifications," said Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"It furthers the perception that the American and British occupation of Iraq is really a war against Islam."

The delay in admitting large numbers of Iraqi refugees to the United States is unconscionable, added Walid, noting that around 100,000 refugees were granted security clearances to work with US forces and were then forced to flee Iraq because of that collaboration.

Shiite Sheikh Husham al-Husainy says refugees should only be allowed in for humanitarian reasons, such as orphans, widows, the elderly and people badly injured in the war.

"We are worried about the national security of this country," said al-Husainy, who recently installed a new security system after his mosque was vandalized for the fourth time in the past year.

"I'm worried about this new group that is coming. Most of them are Baathists -- the oppressors who have bloody hands," he said, adding that those who truly love Iraq ought to stay and fight for stability and democracy.

But staying in Iraq is a death sentence for Christians who are being chased from their homes with threats, tribute taxes and demands to convert to Islam, said Joseph Kassab, director of the Chaldean Federation of America.

"These are not terrorists, these are not fundamentalists, they are running away," he said in an interview.

"The Iraqi government can't protect them. They can't protect themselves. We are the weakest of the weak ... our people cannot survive."

While the plight of the Christians is serious, that does not mean they should be the first -- or only -- refugees to find safety in the United States, said Sunni community leader Mohammad Alomari.

"Ninety seven percent of the Iraqi population is Muslim and due to the sectarian killings and militias the majority of the refugees are Muslim," said Alomari, administrative director of a local charity, Life for Relief and Development.

The first priority should be to help the 2.2 million internally displaced Iraqis living in tents in the desert or under highway overpasses because they were too poor or too afraid to go to a Shiite-controlled government office to get a passport, Alomari said. And many of those are Sunnis.

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