From the moment that Palestine fell under Israeli occupation in 1948, support for the Palestinians from the state and society in Iraq was nothing thing short of unwavering, but not any longer. Expressions of this solidarity and pan-Arab rhetoric have slipped away, substituted by discourse analogous to that voiced by Israel and Zionist enthusiasts.
The shift is not new; it was activated by Saddam Hussein’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait on 2 August, 1990. By 2003, the winds of political change opened the door to systemic violence, but it was not until Iraq’s phase of heightened sectarian warfare in 2006-7 that the noose tightened.
Members of Baghdad’s 1,500 strong Palestinian community were slain by unofficial militias and their cohorts were viewed as staunch supporters of ousted President Saddam Hussein. Amidst the whirlwind of violence, Palestinians were uprooted once again; many had their residential properties on Haifa Street seized by the militias. Surviving members of the community fled to neighbouring Jordan to escape the same fate. Others crossed into unfamiliar territories unable to turn back to their ancestral lands.
“The persecution of Palestinians in Iraq has spiralled out of control since 2003,” explained Iraqi lawyer and former diplomat Naji Haraj, who has worked closely with many of these cases. “Palestinians are forced to seek refuge in Europe and the Nordic states.”
Labels such as “terrorist” and even “Daeshi” are now commonly associated with the Palestinians still living in Iraq. Those who had no option but to remain in the country are increasingly tarred with the terrorism brush. The protection that Iraq once offered Palestinians has been eroded by misconceptions and fear. Anti-Palestinian rhetoric has increased, diminishing further what chance the Palestinians had of obtaining Iraqi citizenship or permanent residence; some have been classed officially as “guests” for up to 60 years.
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