UN points to Iraq violence in chiding deportations
POSTED: Sunday, January 23, 2011 - 2:51pm
UPDATED: Sunday, January 23, 2011 - 3:01pm
BAGHDAD – The head of the U.N. refugee agency scolded nations Sunday for deporting Iraqis back into danger, delivering his criticism on a day when insurgents rattled the Baghdad area with a series of bombings that killed 10 people.
Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said an estimated 2,000 Iraqis have been fleeing their homeland every month, including a "significant number of Christians."
But some countries have turned back dozens of refugees — forcing many to return to some of Iraq's most violent regions.
"There are still some areas in central Iraq in which we believe people should not be sent back against their will," Guterres told reporters after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "And this is the position we have very clearly expressed to some of the counties that have been doing that, against our opinion."
Guterres did not identify those countries, but they are believed to include Sweden, which accepted thousands of Iraqis during the height of the war.
Underscoring the continued danger, a spate of bombs rocked the capital and its suburbs Sunday, killing 10 people over a three-hour span. The bombs struck indiscriminately, with the dead including policemen, pilgrims, farmers, commuters and even young schoolchildren.
Police and hospital officials said at least 34 more people were injured.
The Sunday assaults were the latest in a series of bombings that have killed more than 120 people since Tuesday, shattering a two-month period of relative calm.
The deadliest attacks included a suicide bombing Tuesday against police recruits in Tikrit that killed at least 50 people and a string of blasts near Karbala that claimed 65 lives, many of them Shiite religious pilgrims.
On Sunday, the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, claimed responsibility for the Tikrit attack as well as two bombings last week at security force headquarters in Baqouba that together killed 10 people.
Although the bombings have killed mostly Muslims, the continuing violence has focused attention on Iraq's dwindling Christian community since an Oct. 31 assault by suicide bombers against a Roman Catholic church in Baghdad that left 68 dead.
"All Iraqis need to be treated with the same respect and same consideration, but of course we recognize that in some circumstances that minorities can be in a particularly vulnerable situation," Guterres said.
He also called on Iraq's new government to provide better security for Christians, calling them "an integral part of the Iraqi fabric, of the culture, of the society."
Swedish officials have not explained the recent deportations of Iraqis, including a group last week, except to say that they did not pass immigration reviews. Last month, an Iraqi-born Swede blew himself up in a botched bombing in central Stockholm, killing himself and injuring two people.
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq since the height of the war three years ago. But small-scale bombings and drive-by shootings still persist on a near daily basis.
No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombings. But a senior Iraqi intelligence official blamed them on insurgents seeking to take advantage of the government's delay in appointing a new interior minister, who runs the nation's police forces.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is still weighing who to name to Iraq's three top security ministry posts, saying he wants to ensure they are filled by apolitical candidates.
The intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, also called Sunday's bombings a message to the world that Iraq is not ready to provide security for next month's Arab League summit.
Baghdad will host the two-day summit for the first time in 20 years to tout improvements in security and to try to mend frayed ties with its Arab neighbors, many of who fear growing Iranian influence in Iraq.
Zebari discouraged a direct link between the bombings and the Arab League meeting but said "definitely, overall, the security situation is very important and would be a conducive factor to have the summit in Baghdad, as is the case as we speak."
"Security is always a challenge to the Iraqi government," Zebari said. "But we are confident ... the security challenge will be overcome."