Thursday, May 6, 2004

KALAR, Iraq — Thousands of Iraqi Kurds have fled homes in Fallujah to northern Iraq after being threatened by Arab insurgents for supporting the coalition and refusing to fight against the U.S. military.

More than 2,000 people have arrived since April 9 in the Kurdish town of Kalar near the Iranian border, according to officials of the Kurdish regional government. Others are scattered in the large Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah.

Fallujah was relatively calm yesterday as military action centered on the southern city of Najaf, where U.S. forces captured the governor’s office in fighting that killed an estimated 40 Shi’ite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr.

A suicide bomber exploded a car in Baghdad killing five Iraqi civilians and a U.S. soldier near an entrance to the heavily guarded Green Zone. The blast wounded 25 persons, including two U.S. soldiers.

Displaced and traumatized families arriving from Fallujah in Kalar yesterday said a mixture of die-hard Saddam loyalists and foreign “mujahideen” were accusing Kurdish residents in the city of being traitors and collaborators.

Others said the insurgents had chosen to conduct their attacks on U.S. forces from the rooftops and narrow lanes of the mainly Kurdish Jolan district — which saw the fiercest fighting between guerrillas and Marines — knowing that any retaliatory fire would destroy Kurdish houses and civilians.

“On the first day of the fighting, a masked man came to my husband and told him either to fight the Americans, leave the city or die,” said Sobyar Abdullah, who escaped Fallujah on foot with her husband and five children.

“He demanded that we leave our house, so the fighters could take control.”

Mrs. Abdullah said four masked guerrillas then charged through their living room and up to the roof, from which they fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. forces before moving to another house.

“My children were terrified,” she said. “We had just got out when the Americans fired back. Now everything is rubble.”

Their lives in turmoil after the war to remove Saddam and the recent fighting, Mrs. Abdullah and her family refused to blame the destruction of her home on U.S. forces.

“They are not Americans; they are angels sent from God to free us from Saddam,” she said.

Aryan Raouf, director of the local office of the Ministry of Human Rights in Kalar, said, “There was a deliberate tactic by terrorists and Arab chauvinists to take the fighting to the Kurdish homes and threaten anyone who objected.”

Mr. Raouf said many of the displaced families were too terrified of reprisals by Arab fighters to return to their homes in the volatile heart of the Sunni triangle.

“Much of the Arab world has hailed the Fallujah insurgents as heroes fighting the U.S. occupation, but these stories of fear and intimidation by their Arab compatriots tell a different story,” he said.

Many of the families were originally from the border area near Kalar but were expelled to Fallujah by Saddam in the 1970s, said Saman Shawkat of the Kurdistan Children’s Nest, a local organization trying to help those displaced by the Fallujah fighting.

“They have taken refuge among friends and relatives but hail from poor families in the Kalar area and are now an added burden on them,” he said. “They need help to rebuild their lives in the relative calm of Iraqi Kurdistan.”

Malihah Osman, whose 19-member family is crammed into two spartan cinderblock dwellings, said graffiti promoting the killing of Kurds had begun to appear on walls near the home she abandoned in Fallujah.

“We came to Kalar with just our ID cards and are too afraid to go back to Fallujah, even for our belongings,” she said.

Fazhil Tawfiq, who ran a video-repair workshop in an Arab district in Fallujah, said opinion in the city had turned against Kurds after the participation of Kurdish fighters in the newly formed Iraqi security forces that helped fight the insurgents.

“They are vowing the Kurds will pay for supporting the Americans. It reminds me of the days of Saddam,” he said.

Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, were strong supporters of the war to remove the former regime and have remained staunchly supportive of U.S. forces.

But many have been alarmed by the resurfacing of anti-Kurdish sentiments among Sunni Arabs and supporters of Sheik al-Sadr.

Gunmen yesterday assassinated a prominent Kurdish official in Kirkuk in a drive-by shooting that also killed his driver and wounded his wife.

Also, a bomb exploded in front of the headquarters of one of the two main Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, in the city of Baquba, north of Baghdad.

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