The entire Palestinian community estimated at 90,000 men, women and children, occupies its own quarter of Baghdad around Haifa Street, a notorious a trap for US troops. When Iraq’s Shiite prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari used the epithet of “superfluous” for the Palestinians on whom the deposed ruler Saddam Hussein bestowed many favors, he was also serious about getting rid of them.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources report that what the Iraqi prime minister has in mind is expulsion, possibly to the Jordanian border, on a scale not seen in Iraq since Saddam’s mass displacements and persecutions of Shiites, Kurds and Marsh Arabs of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1991, after the first Gulf War, Kuwait deported 400,000 Palestinians to Jordan.
Jaafari believes he has four sound reasons for wanting to expel the Palestinians, one of which he does not admit.
1. The Palestinians never wavered from their loyalty to Saddam Hussein through the two Gulf wars.
2. Increasing numbers of Palestinians are joining the Sunni guerrilla underground and al Qaeda to fight American and Iraqi security forces. They prove that their loyalties are unchanged by Saddam’s overthrow and the new regime. Since their status in Iraq has always been as guests, there is no reason for them to outstay their welcome.
3. Armed Palestinian resistance to the American military and the Iraqi government in Baghdad has grown into a first-class security hazard in the Iraqi capital, especially when a parliamentary election is only weeks away. Jaafari is not just talking; he means business. He has put the problem before his minister for displacement and migration Suheila Abd Jaafar and instructed her to start arranging the mass deportations.
The unspoken motive behind the prime minister’s determination is the real one: Saddam’s largesse to the Palestinians was prompted by his conviction that his espousal of the Palestinian problem gave his regime a boost and brought him kudos in the Arab world. He not only gave them homes in Baghdad and positions in Iraq’s security and intelligence services, but also substantial properties in the capital. Iraq was in fact the only Arab nation to permit Palestinians to own real estate.
The lure of real estate
After the Haifa Street district became a theater of terrorist operations in the Iraqi capital, armed Shjiite militias and pressure groups began making nocturnal raids on Palestinian homes and throwing them out.
The approaching general elections and the internal split in Jaafari’s Dawa party have given the Shiites leverage to lean hard on the prime minister and make him evict the Palestinians and commandeer their property.
As a result, it is estimated that at least 15,000 Palestinians have become homeless, housed in three temporary refugee camps on vacant lots or open squares in the city. The camps were set up by the Palestinian embassy in Baghdad, which purchased tents for the dispossessed Palestinians.
As Shiite gang pressure intensifies, these camps expand.
The Iraqi prime minister figures that the Americans, who regard the Palestinians as a major security threat, will turn a blind eye to the problem and treat it as an internal Iraqi affair.
That sort of calculation might have held true for a while, but no longer, according to our sources; it is being reconsidered since Abu Musab al Zarqawi set up his al Qaeda headquarters in Baghdad in mid-October. (See separate article in this issue.)
Zarqawi’s own family was among the Palestinian refugees deported from Kuwait to Jordan in 1991. He understands, none better, how to present his case for Palestinian support. It is easy for him to demonstrate that the only way they can save themselves from the sword of expulsion hanging over their heads is to join his al Qaeda ranks. He offers young Palestinians the alternative of a merciless war against the Americans and the Shiite- dominated government or letting themselves be thrown out of the country and their once comfortable lives. Their only course is to seize sections of Baghdad and turn them into no-go zones for their enemies.