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7/5/04 - IRAQ REFUGEES - 2004-07-07

In the past year, close to one-hundred-thousand Iraqi refugees have returned home. They are among the estimated one-million Iraqis who fled their country since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958 by a military coup, and the emergence of Saddam Hussein in the 1970s.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it has facilitated the return of more than eleven-thousand refugees from Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. An estimated seventy-thousand refugees, including Kurds, are estimated to have returned on their own. Many of the returning Kurdish refugees left Iraq fifteen years ago when the Saddam Hussein regime launched its brutal Anfal campaign, bombing villages and using chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in the northern part of Iraq. In just one three-day period in March 1988, the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja was attacked with conventional bombs and chemical weapons. Human Rights Watch estimates that out of a population of some forty-thousand, up to twelve-thousand were killed. Others moved to refugee camps outside Iraq. Enda Savage, the U-N’s repatriation coordinator for Iraq, says, “Despite the difficult security situation, refugees still choose to return to their hometowns. It is encouraging,” says Mr. Savage, and the U-N “will do its utmost to support the refugees along the way and on arrival.”

President George W. Bush says, “In a nation that suffered for decades under tyranny, we have witnessed the transfer of sovereignty and the beginning of self-government”:

“In just fifteen-months, the Iraqi people have left behind one of the worst regimes in the Middle East, and their country is becoming the world’s newest democracy.”

“Iraq still faces hard challenges in the days and months ahead,” says President Bush. But, “Iraq’s leaders are eager to assume responsibility.”

And now for the first time in over half a century, and despite precarious security conditions, more Iraqis are entering rather than leaving.