- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

BAGHDAD — Up to 1,000 Iraqi expatriates, many of them expelled from their country by Saddam Hussein, are returning to their homeland each day as January elections approach.

The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration puts the total number of people who have returned at 116,000.

They include Zainab Ahmed, an Iraqi who lived in Iran for the past 18 years.

“This is my homeland, all of my relatives are here,” Mrs. Ahmed, 65, said, when asked why she returned.

Like thousands of other Iraqis, she and her family of seven were kicked out of Iraq by Saddam, who took over her house and gave it to another family.

“I have no house, no furniture, nothing but some blankets to sleep in,” said Mrs. Ahmed, who now lives with her son-in-law in Baghdad.

Sorya Isho Warda, Iraq’s minister of displacement and migration, says that up to 1,000 people have been returning to Iraq every day in recent months.

Statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also indicate a huge rise in the number of people returning, many repatriated by UNHCR.

When they saw the images on television of U.S. troops entering Iraq, families wanted to return home immediately, Mrs. Ahmed said. “It seemed like there was a new life in Iraq. In Iran, I have no nationality, so I have no rights.”

The Iranian government also has been pushing Iraqi exiles to return home, said Fatma Latif, 49, one of Mrs. Ahmed’s daughters.

“The word continues to spread in Iran that we can get our old documents back here,” Mrs. Latif said. “Thousands of people have gone to the ministry here to see what they can do for us. Now, maybe we can get something.”

Mrs. Ahmed spreads her documents on the floor: her husband’s passport, issued in Iraq; his military service card from Iraq; her identification card; several children’s identification cards.

Now the children are grown up, so they need new documents, but Mrs. Ahmed is not sure where to apply.

The huge number of people flowing in has caused strains on the government infrastructure, Miss Warda said.

Many of the former exiles had heard that those who returned home were registered for food ration cards, entitling them to a basket of food expected to feed four persons for a month. Those cards also are being used to create Iraq’s new voter registration database.

“Like every country, Iran wants them to leave, and people are eager to return home. But housing is the biggest problem,” Miss Warda said. “Where can we put all of these people?”

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