The Times

City trench that bars way to refugees and killers

Ramita Navai in Irbil

March 31 2007

Cars clog the narrow, pitted road that leads into Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, connecting the city with the rest of the country. Nervous and exhausted passengers clutch their identification papers as they inch towards the Kirkuk checkpoint. One by one, the vehicles are searched and male travellers are patted down.

“Every day about 2,000 to 3,000 people are trying to get into Irbil. About 80 per cent of them are displaced people,” said Ahmed Khalil, in charge of the city’s two checkpoints.

Thousands of Iraqis are fleeing the incipient civil war and heading for sanctuary in the Kurdish part of northern Iraq. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society estimates that about 160,000 Iraqis have moved there.

Once through the security checkpoints, Iraqis must provide the name of a Kurdish guarantor. Without it, they will be turned away. And it is much harder for Arab Muslims to be allowed in than for Christians or Kurds. Mr Khalil said that 60 people a day are turned away for having no guarantor.

“The fighting and bloodshed is practically on our doorstep,” said an official who did not want to be named. “Mosul and Kirkuk are less than an hour away. The terrorists are Arabs. It’s no wonder the Kurds don’t want any more Arabs in.”

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