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Number of Displaced Iraqis Has Soared, Aid Group Says

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

BAGHDAD, Nov. 5 -- The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has more than quadrupled since the U.S. troop buildup began in February, leaving 2.3 million Iraqis displaced and further dividing the country along sectarian lines, according to a new report from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

The figures, which measured the number of internally displaced people at the end of September, present a grim accounting of the humanitarian crisis unfolding as Shiite militias and Sunni insurgent groups drive civilians, usually from the opposite sect, out of their homes, neighborhoods and cities.

More than 83 percent of those displaced were women and children, and most children were younger than 12, the report found. Most lived in Baghdad. Many lack adequate health services, cannot transfer their children to new schools and cannot find jobs.

The number of internally displaced Iraqis at the end of September represented a 16 percent increase since the end of August, and was more than 40 times higher than March 2006, when sectarian fighting accelerated following the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Sammara, a Shiite shrine, according to the report.

"This attack ignited sectarian and ethnic arms conflict throughout Iraq on a scale never seen before. Thousands of Shiites had fled Sunni areas and vice versa," the report said. "In addition to their plight as being displaced, the majority suffer from disease, poverty and malnutrition."

The power struggle in Iraq has also pitted groups of the same sect against each other. On Monday south of Baghdad in Diwaniyah, for example, police forces tied to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the largest Shiite parties in the country, arrested 11 followers of the powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of his spokesmen said.

The spokesman, Abu Zainab al-Karawi, described the detentions as part of an "escalating campaign of arrests" by the local police against the Sadr movement.

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