The violence inside Iraq has “spiralled totally out of control,” the United Nations’ top humanitarian official said today as he appealed to the country’s religious, ethnic and other community leaders to do much more to try to stop the killings and massive displacement of people.
At least 315,000 people have fled their homes in the past seven or eight months, driven by military operations or sectarian violence that has escalated since a key Shiite shrine in Samarra was bombed in February, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told a press briefing in Geneva.
Armed sectarian militias and death squads murder an average of 100 people every day, he added, noting that no segment of society was immune.
“These are police and their recruits, these are judges, these are lawyers, these are journalists, and there are increasingly women,” he said. “And the latter group is particularly targeted for so-called honour killings… Revenge killings seem now to be totally out of control.”
There are now thought to be 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Iraq, as well as an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries. Each day as many as 2,000 people cross the border into Syria as the trend accelerates.
Mr. Egeland said the rising numbers of refugees means Iraq is experienced a serious ‘brain drain,’ with reports indicating some universities and hospitals in Baghdad have lost up to 80 per cent of their professional staff. In total, a third or more of Iraqi professionals are estimated to have left their country in recent years.
“Our appeal goes to everybody who can influence the violence, who can curb the violence. Religious leaders, ethnic leaders [and] cultural leaders have to see that this has spiralled totally out of control – Sunnis being pressured out of Shia areas, Shias out of Sunni areas. Exchanges of people in the tens of thousands are happening.
“That means that those who remain as minorities in areas with such ‘ethnic engineering,’ as some call it, become increasingly vulnerable. And you have then an accelerating trend of mass movement of people. It has to stop and all of those who can influence it must do their utmost to stop it.”
Mr. Egeland, who is also the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, called for more funding – either from donors or from government budget surpluses – for the world body’s humanitarian programmes inside Iraq, which cover areas ranging from water and sanitation to food distribution.