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Anger mounts among Anbar’s displaced stalled at Baghdad’s gates

AFP I Displaced Sunni Iraqis, who fled the violence in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad, on April 19, 2015

Tens of thousands of people fleeing Iraq’s western Anbar province have been stopped from entering Baghdad due to a security rule that has sparked frustration among the mostly Sunni displaced civilians.

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Over the past few days, Anbaris fleeing the latest fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State (IS) group militants have been blocked at checkpoints leading into Baghdad due to a security rule requiring them to name a relative or friend inside the capital as a guarantor.

Iraqi authorities maintain the guarantor system is necessary to ensure IS militants do not infiltrate the Iraqi capital.

But the Sunni civilians stuck at Baghdad’s gates complain that they are being treated as foreign security threats in a deeply divided predominantly Shiite country.

At the Bzaibiz bridge checkpoint, weary Anbaris voiced frustration over the security rule.

"When we reached Bzaibiz bridge we found that the government had obstructed our advance in Iraq, and is discriminating between this person and that," said Ahmed Abdulrahman in an interview with Reuters.

Hameed Mehdi Abdullah, who left Ramadi with 40 relatives, did not mince his words in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We are the sons of this country and in moving from one province to another, we’re being asked to have a guarantor…Since when?” fumed an irate Abdullah.

Risk of laying down arms or joining IS ranks

Iraqi officials say Sunni tribal and community leaders are critical in the fight against the IS group in the vast, desert province. But FRANCE 24’s Wassim Nasr, an expert on jihadist groups, warns that the security rule is not helping to win Sunni hearts and minds.

"This situation creates frustration among the Sunni tribes in the region whose relations with the Iraqi central government has only been deteriorating since the end of 2013," said Nasr, referring to the Iraqi government’s violent December 2013 crackdown on anti-government protests in Anbar.

Nasr warned that the latest resentments over the guarantor system could have security implications in the fight against the IS group. “The situation may well get worse: seeing their mistreatment by the authorities, Sunni fighters [who have joined the fight against the IS group] feel betrayed and there’s a risk of either giving up their weapons or joining IS group ranks.”

More than 90,000 people have fled their homes in Anbar since April 8, when IS militants began gaining ground around Ramadi, according to UN figures.

The latest migration compounds an intensifying humanitarian crisis in Iraq, where 2.7 million people have been displaced within the country since January 2014. Anbaris account for at least 30 percent of those displaced within the country since the beginning of last year, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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