Iraqis in Jordan Watch Developments Back Home
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
President Bush's meeting in Jordan comes amid the ongoing sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq. More than 3,700 Iraqi civilians were killed last month. The United Nations says the violence has also forced more than 400,000 Iraqis to flee their homes and that 100,000 more Iraqis are leaving the country every month.
NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from Amman.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Iraqi refugee Mustafa Ahmed(ph) fled the carnage of Baghdad and now sips tea at a safe little alleyway café in downtown Amman. But these days the 29-year-old day laborer still looks over his shoulder in fear. He doesn't have residency status here and is working illegally at a construction site. A Shiite, Mustafa worries the Jordanian police will find him and deport him back to the kill zone. He said that's exactly what happened last month to his cousin, who was deported and then killed by Sunnis on the main highway between Amman and Baghdad, the so-called death road that cuts through al Anbar province, the center of the Sunni insurgency.
Mr. MUSTAFA AHMED (Iraqi Refugee): (Foreign language spoken)
WESTERVELT: I'll get killed on that road. They'll see I'm a Shiite born in Basra and they'll kill me, he says as he slowly moves his index finger across his throat. Mustafa's relatives still in Iraq tell him of continued grave danger. The U.N. estimates that well over 400,000 Iraqis have been internally displaced since February, when an attack on a Shiite shrine sparked a wave of sectarian conflict.
Recent weeks in Baghdad have seen more civilians killed by sectarian death squads, as well as car bombs and mortar attacks on neighborhoods, running street battles, and a coordinated insurgent attack on the Health Ministry. It's against this backdrop of spiraling violence that President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki will meet, the first face-to-face talks between the two leaders since the president pledged to explore new ideas for Iraq after Democrats won control of Congress in midterm elections.
Joost Hiltermann is the Middle East Project director with the International Crisis Group. He says Prime Minister Maliki is taking a huge political risk in even meeting with the American president. The anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is one of Maliki's main power backers. Sadr aides are threatening to pull out of the already shaky government and withdraw support for Maliki if he meets with President Bush.
Mr. JOOST HILTERMANN (Middle East Project Director, International Crisis Group): But if he stays in Baghdad, he may be committing political suicide as well because I don't think the American government is going to be happy with a Iraqi prime minister who's invited to come to Amman and refuses to do so. And they may just push him aside and find somebody who is a little bit more pliant.
WESTERVELT: President Bush is expected to tell Maliki to work harder and faster toward political reconciliation aimed at stemming the bloodshed. Analysts say Maliki is likely to ask President Bush to speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. Hiltermann with the crisis group calls that idea a non-starter given the continued weakness of Iraqi forces, which he says continue to be infiltrated and in some cases controlled by sectarian militias which are perpetuating the violence.
Mr. HILTERMANN: We call it civil war. We've been doing that for some time. And in our view the issue is not whether this is a civil war or not a civil war, but how much worse it could get and what we can do to prevent that from escalating. And that is really the key question now. And we're seeing no new American initiative really to bring the Iraqi parties around to table. I think this is what required - the Iraqi parties themselves, by themselves, are clearly not capable of doing it.
WESTERVELT: Many of the Iraqi refugees now living here in Amman say only political talks will stop the carnage in their home country. Ahded Ali(ph), a Sunni, is a computer programmer. The 32-year-old fled to Jordan from Baghdad's upscale Mansur neighborhood just two months ago. Now sitting in an Iraqi-owned café in Amman, Ali says he believes the violence back home is only cloaked in sectarian tensions. It is really, he says, a fight over resources and political power.
Mr. AHDED ALI (Iraqi Refugee): The problem is not with the Sunni or Shiite, it's not sectarian; it's the government. The problem is the government, the Iraqi government. It's a politician problem. It's not a religion problem from my point of view.
WESTERVELT: President Bush later today and tomorrow will try to work on that politician problem in meetings with the Iraqi prime minister. As one analyst here put it: In the absence of new political initiatives and effective arm-twisting, the violence in Iraq will only escalate.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Amman.
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