There is also the situation of whole displaced tribes, who have fled attacks in major cities such as Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad and sought refuge elsewhere, like in the northern semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.
During Saddam’s regime, many families fled north to Kurdistan in the early 1990s. Until that time, families, including many Christian ones, were persecuted under the dictator’s rule as part of his “Arabisation” of territories, which broke up ethnic groups and displaced rebel communities.
Northern Iraq or Kurdistan is now home to more than 100,000 displaced people with desperate needs. Many face high rents, few employment opportunities, difficulty in getting kerosene and food, and linguistic challenges settling from the now terrorist-ridden parts of the south.
Mosa Ali Bakir, head of northern Iraq’s commission on refugees, explains: “Presidents give out apples and sweets, Saddam distributed mines. There’s about five per person in Kurdistan, that’s the reason why we have casualties from them every day.
“Thirty years of organised destruction is 100 years of reconstruction. And it’s not easy as we don’t even have the maps to locate them [the landmines].
“Refugees are coming here from middle and south Iraq as well as returning from Europe.”
Many displaced or refugee families have no access to accommodation or basics like heating and food and often must sleep in neighbours houses and hope for grants from local government.
Iraq, for the most part, is landlocked and surrounded by six countries, including Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria and Jordan to the west, and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to the south.
According to Bakir, everyone wants a “piece of the pie” in Iraq.
Security sources have confirmed the build up of fundamentalists as well as wanton terrorists in Mosul in the north-west, a city which borders Syria, and in oil-rich Kirkuk to the east, which lies closer to Iran. There are even conspirators who claim that Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, is a “puppet” leader ruling the country from Baghdad for Iran, which has a Shi’ite majority, like Iraq.
Iraq under Hussein used to be ruled by Sunnis, the other main branch of Islam.
In the northern city of Dohuk, just 60km from the Syrian border, there are also fears that the escalating Arab Spring in the neighbouring country may spill over Iraq’s borders. Tens of thousands of Syrians could soon seek refuge, adds Bakir.
“The main problem is providing shelter, water and electricity to them [refugees]. We don’t encourage giving refugees just food and kerosene. Helping them integrate is the best way and especially through job opportunities. But this competes with local communities.”
* This series was carried out with the help of the Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund, supported by Irish Aid