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 QUARTER MILLION IRAQIS FLEE SECTARIAN VIOLENCE

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Organisation : Solidarité Irak
Registration date : 2006-08-20

PostSubject: QUARTER MILLION IRAQIS FLEE SECTARIAN VIOLENCE   Fri Sep 29, 2006 1:15 pm

QUARTER MILLION IRAQIS FLEE SECTARIAN VIOLENCE




by Ahmed Rasheed and Peter Graff

BAGHDAD, Sept 28 (Reuters) - A quarter of a million Iraqis have fled sectarian violence and registered as refugees in the past seven months, data released on Thursday showed, amid an upsurge in attacks that has accompanied the Ramadan holy month.

Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq called for the kidnapping of Westerners to swap for a Muslim cleric jailed in the United States, according to an Internet audio tape.

The sectarian killing continued in Baghdad, where police said they had found the bodies of 40 victims -- bound, tortured and murdered -- in the last 24 hours, a total that has become almost commonplace in the capital over the last few weeks.

The United States says violence in Iraq has surged in the last two weeks, and this past week, the first of Ramadan, saw the most suicide bombs of any week since the war began in 2003.

The registered refugee figures showed 40,000 families -- 240,000 people -- claiming assistance, up from 27,000 families in July. The figures do not include an uncounted number of Iraqis who have moved home without claiming aid.

"The reason for this increase is that the security situation in some provinces has deteriorated considerably, forcing people to leave their homes in fear for their lives," said Migration Ministry spokesman Sattar Nowruz.

AL QAEDA THREAT

The new leader of Al Qaeda's Iraq branch called on his followers to capture Westerners to swap for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind cleric jailed for life in the United States after the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Centre.

"I call on every holy fighter in Iraq to strive during this holy month (Ramadan)... to capture some dogs of the Christians so that we can liberate our imprisoned sheikh," said Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, in an audio recording on the Internet.

Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayub al-Masri, succeeded Iraq's Qaeda chief Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi when he was killed by U.S. forces in June.

U.S. commanders say have focussed their efforts on the capital Baghdad over the past two months and say they have managed to reduce the number of sectarian death squad killings in the scattered neighbourhoods they have targeted.

But the killers seem to have moved to other neighbourhoods and violence has not subsided in the city as a whole.

A car bomb and a roadside bomb exploded in quick succession in the Sadoun district of central Baghdad on Thursday, killing four people and wounding 38, police said. At least five other bombs struck in the capital in the morning, killing at least three and wounding 30.

Mortar rounds landed on a district in the southwest of the capital killing four. Other bombs struck in Mosul, Kirkuk and Numaniya. A woman and two children were among five people killed in an air strike in Ramadi, hospital officials said.

Death squads were returning to one of the areas the Americans had cleared, Ghazaliya, because police were allowing the killers back in, said a senior U.S. military official who briefed reporters under condition he not be named.

"We would ascribe that to probably some measure of some element in MoI facilitating the re-entry of folks into the area," said the official, referring to the Ministry of the Interior which oversees the police.

He described a surge in death squad killings since February by members of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, including some who were "rogue" and no longer under Sadr's control.

The death squads have been seeking out victims using lists of targets and placing them before clerics who give religious sanction to their killings, he said, giving one of the most detailed descriptions of U.S. intelligence on the violence.

Since June they have carried out mass kidnappings, often of dozens of people stopped at roadblocks and separated out by their religion. They are held, tortured and killed.



[url]http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/GRA836154.htm [/url]
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