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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Refugee Crisis Grows as Darfur War Crosses a Border - New York Times

Refugee Crisis Grows as Darfur War Crosses a Border - New York TimesFebruary 28, 2006
Refugee Crisis Grows as Darfur War Crosses a Border

ADRÉ, Chad — The chaos in Darfur, the war-ravaged region in Sudan where more than 200,000 civilians have been killed, has spread across the border into Chad, deepening one of the world's worst refugee crises.

Arab gunmen from Darfur have pushed across the desert and entered Chad, stealing cattle, burning crops and killing anyone who resists. The lawlessness has driven at least 20,000 Chadians from their homes, making them refugees in their own country.

Hundreds of thousands more people in this area, along with 200,000 Sudanese who fled here for safety, find themselves caught up in a growing conflict between Chad and Sudan, which have a long history of violence and meddling in each other's affairs.

"You may have thought the terrible situation in Darfur couldn't get worse, but it has," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a recent statement. "Sudan's policy of arming militias and letting them loose is spilling over the border, and civilians have no protection from their attacks, in Darfur or in Chad."

Indeed, the accounts of civilians in eastern Chad are agonizingly familiar to those in western Sudan. One woman, Zahara Isaac Mahamat, described how Arab men on camels and horses had raided her village in Chad, stealing everything they could find and slaughtering all who resisted.

The dead included her husband, Ismail Ibrahim, who tried to prevent the raiders from burning his sorghum and millet fields. Like so many others in this desolate expanse of dust-choked earth, she fled west with her three children, much as people in Darfur have been forced to do in recent years.

"I have lost everything but my children," she said, her face looking much older than her 20 years. She is now a refugee, with thousands of other displaced Chadians, in Kolloye, a village south of here.

"We have three bowls of grain left," she said. "When that is gone, only God can help us."

The spreading chaos is a result of two closely connected conflicts in the neighboring countries.

In Darfur, rebels have been battling government forces and the janjaweed, Arab militias aligned with the government, in a campaign of terror that the Bush administration has called genocide.

The United Nations Security Council has agreed to send troops to protect civilians, but they will take months to arrive. In the meantime, President Bush has said, NATO should help shore up a failing African Union peacekeeping mission there, but a surge of violence has chased tens of thousands of people from their homes in recent weeks.

In Chad, the government is fighting its own war against rebels based in Sudan and bent on ousting Chad's ailing president, Idriss Déby.

The rebels include disgruntled soldiers who defected and tribes tired of being ruled by members of the president's tribe, the Zaghawa, who represent just a small percentage of the population but have long dominated politics and the military.

In a sign of how inseparable the two conflicts have become, President Déby has accused Sudan of supporting the rebellion against his government, and Sudan has long suspected members of Mr. Déby's family of supporting Zaghawa-led rebels in Darfur.

Both sides agreed at a summit meeting in Libya in early February to stop supporting rebels on each other's territory and to tone down the belligerent talk. But Chadian rebels have remained on the Sudanese side of the border, and it is not clear whether Mr. Déby has the capacity to stop members of his clan from supporting Darfur rebels.

If unchecked by international intervention, this complex and volatile mix of government forces, allied militias and at least a half-dozen rebel groups in a remote region awash with weapons will almost inevitably lead to disaster, said John Prendergast, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, and an expert on the Darfur conflict.

"The principle strategy of all these actors, both state actors and proxy militias, is to displace people in order to destabilize and undermine the support base of your opponent," he said. "We are going to see an increasing spiral of displacement on both sides of the border and an increasingly dangerous environment for humanitarian workers."

In Chad, the trouble began in December when rebel groups attacked Adré and two other strategic border towns. The Chadian Army repelled the rebels, but it withdrew its troops from garrisons along the border to fortify Adré.

The withdrawal has left a security vacuum into which the janjaweed have rushed. The once well-traveled road between Adré, a bustling border town, and Kolloye has become a terrifying gantlet roamed by bandits and Arab militias. Dozens of villages have emptied; some have been burned. The few aid agencies working in this lawless region avoid the road, using a circuitous route farther west to reach Abéché, the regional capital.

In six days of traveling along the frontier, a reporter and photographer for The New York Times saw just four policemen to keep the peace, equipped only with horses and armed with battered AK-47's. Outside of Adré, only one military patrol was visible.

What appeared to be another military patrol just south of Adré, four soldiers commanded by an aging officer with thick glasses and rheumy eyes, was in fact a search party for the missing cattle of the commanding officer, Adoum Allatchi Gaga. His cows had been stolen by raiders across the border. Asked about the security situation in the region, Mr. Gaga said: "I don't have any idea. I am just looking for my cows."

At the hospital in Adré, the number of gunshot victims in December and January almost doubled, to about 100 a month, relief officials said, a grim sign of the growing lawlessness.

In one ward lay Fatime Youma, a 13-year-old girl with a tube draining the gunshot wound that had punctured her lung.

She was shot, her father explained, by janjaweed who happened upon her and her 16-year-old sister, Zenab, who lay in the next room with a gunshot wound to her arm.

"I was just looking for firewood with my sister," Zenab said softly. "When the raiders saw us we ran away but they shot at us."

Adré's police chief, Mahamat Lony, said he was short of both officers and weapons.

"We have a very catastrophic situation," he said. "We have a very long frontier with Sudan, and many heavily armed raiders on the other side. There have been many incursions, and they attack the population. We have many displaced, and no one is helping them."

The man charged with defending Chad's border and protecting refugees and civilians is Gen. Abakar Youssouf Mahamat Itno, 38, a nephew of President Déby who was dispatched here the day of the rebel attack.

"Sudan wants to export the war in Darfur to us here," General Itno said at his camp in the hills above Adré. "They want to use the janjaweed they armed to terrorize Darfur, to terrorize our population. We will not allow it."

Even so, he acknowledged his inability to patrol the border areas. "It is a long border," he said. "We cannot be everywhere at once."

That Chadian rebels have found sanctuary in Sudan is beyond doubt. Geneina, the capital of Western Darfur, resembles a garrison town; armed men from at least six forces are visible on the streets, as are Arabs in street clothes carrying AK-47's. Local residents identify them as janjaweed.

In the market in the evening, Chadian Army deserters wearing their distinctive turbans sit drinking tea, submachine guns beside them. Freshly dug machine-gun pits surround the police and army stations, and aid agencies are putting sandbags around their offices. The Chadian rebels have new weapons, uniforms and vehicles, aid officials in Geneina said, leading many to conclude that they are getting support from the Sudanese government.

With so much firepower on the Sudanese side of the border, residents in villages like Adé, south of Adré, have borne almost daily attacks.

"There is no security here," said Hisseine Kassar Mostapha, secretary general of the local government in Adé. "We are out here completely on our own, with no one to protect us."

The lack of security means little assistance from international aid groups. In Kolloye, 10,000 Chadians, refugees like Ms. Mahamat, live in roofless grass shelters that give little protection from the frigid night air and no shelter from the punishing desert sun. Water is scarce and food supplies are low, villagers said. The only assistance is a mobile clinic run by Doctors Without Borders that operates three times a week.

One refugee, Kaltam Abdullah, cradled her year-old son in her lap; his head lolled on his neck, his eyes were glazed and his limbs slender.

"He has had running stomach for 10 days," Ms. Abdullah said. "He is coughing. But there is no doctor."

Meanwhile, Sudanese refugees continue to arrive in Chad. Last month there were 1,500 arrivals, up from 1,000 over the previous three months, said Claire Bourgeois, the deputy representative for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Abéché. She said all the camps were full except one, and that it was filling up quickly.

Several camps holding tens of thousands of refugees will be moved further west, Ms. Bourgeois said, to protect the refugees from the violence. But safety remains a serious problem, she added, and "if there is no security, the humanitarian actors will leave."

Sudanese refugees who have arrived in recent weeks recount grim tales of slaughter, rape and plunder.

Ibrahim Suleiman Mahamat, a herder from the Masalit tribe who lived along the border, said janjaweed had stolen his livestock: 40 cows, 20 goats and sheep, 2 camels and 2 horses. Penniless and terrified, he had little choice but to cross into Chad with his two wives and six children. Dozens of relatives left behind plan to join him, he said. Even in the relative safety of the Gaga Refugee Camp, far west of the border, he said, he does not feel safe.

"We are in a very dangerous situation," Mr. Mahamat said. "What happens if there is a war in the country you are from and the country you have fled to? We are nowhere. There is nowhere for us to go."

Michael Kamber contributed reporting from Geneina, Sudan, for this article.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Younger Clerics Showing Power in Iraq's Unrest - New York Times

Younger Clerics Showing Power in Iraq's Unrest - New York TimesFebruary 26, 2006
Younger Clerics Showing Power in Iraq's Unrest

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 25 — American officials have been repeatedly stunned and frequently thwarted in the past three years by the extraordinary power of Muslim clerics over Iraqi society. But in the sectarian violence of the past few days, that power has taken an ominous turn, as rival hard-line Shiite clerical factions have pushed each other toward more militant and anti-American stances, Iraqi and Western officials say.

Even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the paramount Shiite cleric to whom the Americans have often looked for moderation, appears to have been outflanked by younger and more aggressive figures.

After a bomb exploded in Samarra at one of Iraq's most sacred Shiite shrines on Wednesday, many young Shiites ignored his pleas for calm, instead heeding more extreme calls and attacking Sunni mosques and killing Sunni civilians, even imams, in a crisis that has threatened to provoke open civil war.

On Saturday, Iraqi political leaders from across the spectrum joined with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in a televised show of unity to try to quell the violence. President Bush telephoned several leaders to urge them to return to talks. [Page 10.]

Earlier, as the critical moment of Friday Prayer approached, American officials and their allies were left almost helpless, hoping that Iraq's imams would step up to calm the crisis. But that hope gave way to the realization that the clerics could do as much harm as good, and for the first time since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi authorities imposed a daytime curfew to keep people from attending the sermons.

"Sectarian divisions are not new, and sectarian violence is not new," said a Western diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as interfering. "What is different this time is that the Shiites, in a sign that their patience is limited, reacted violently in a number of places."

The violence and new militancy has come in part from a competition among Shiite factions to be seen as the protectors of the Shiite masses. The main struggle has been between the leading factions, both backed by Iran, and their spiritual leaders.

Many of the retaliatory attacks after the bombing were led by Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose anti-American crusades have turned him into a rising political power.

His main rival, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric and the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri, defended the right of Shiites to respond to the bombing. He has shown a new willingness to publicly attack the American role in Iraq, once the preserve of Mr. Sadr, and he also commands a powerful militia, the Badr Organization.

"There are clerics who are very moderate and who understand what the current situation demands, and there are clerics who have political agendas and who marshal forces for their own gain," said Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East director of the International Crisis Group. "Those are the dangerous ones."

The more political clerics, Mr. Hiltermann added, "are quite willing to push their agendas no matter what it might lead to, including civil war and the breakup of the country."

The violence and escalating rhetoric among Sunnis and Shiites has left the mostly secular Iraqi leaders favored by the United States farther than ever from power.

"I think people are rapidly losing confidence in the political class, and I don't blame them," said Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and a member of the shrinking secular alliance led by the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi.

Shiite clerics were not the only ones whose power was on display this week. As the violence escalated after the shrine attack, some Sunni Arab religious leaders tried to rally Sunnis in Iraq and other Arab countries to ever more aggressive stands. Members of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a hard-line Sunni group, have cast the violence as part of a broader struggle between Sunnis and Shiites across the region.

Most religious leaders condemned the violence. But some, including many who also play roles as leading politicians, continued to fuel their followers' sense of grievance about the shrine bombing and the reprisals.

The fact that many hard-line political leaders are also clerics complicates the situation. The Iraqi leaders, for instance, can say one thing to American officials while spreading a different message to a vast network of followers through mosques and militias. After Mr. Hakim on Wednesday accused the American ambassador to Iraq of being partly responsible for the Samarra bombing, he distanced himself from the statement and met with the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.

But on Friday, clerics loyal to Mr. Hakim's political party, Sciri, repeated the accusation against Mr. Khalilzad, and it quickly spread to the street, with some Shiites rallying in the southern city of Basra to demand Mr. Khalilzad's removal.

To some, the crisis of the past few days has underscored a longstanding American failure to reach out effectively to moderate Islamists who might give them better access to the Iraqi masses.

From the earliest days of the occupation in 2003, American officials seemed to place most of their faith in secular figures like Mr. Allawi and Ahmad Chalabi, believing they had popular support. They also gave posts of authority to Mr. Hakim and other conservative religious figures, thinking they would play a lesser role in the new Iraq. But Mr. Hakim and others used their positions to help build their political base.

"The Americans knew what was coming, but they underestimated the power — they thought they could control the power of the clerics," said Hatem Mukhlis, a secular Sunni Arab politician who met with President Bush before the war.

Despite Iraq's relatively secular government over the past century, the country remains a part of the broader Islamic world, where bonds between religion and state are deep.

Iraqi Shiites in particular have rallied around their religious leadership before, most recently in the uprising against Saddam Husseinin 1991, but also earlier, as in the revolt against the British in 1920.

"What's happened over the last three years is that there has been an ongoing crisis," said Laith Kubba, a former adviser to Prime Minister Jaafari who is now out of politics. "Even many Iraqis didn't accurately foresee the situation, that in an Iraq so highly polarized, religious leaders would become the rallying points."

Clerics have never been as influential among Sunnis in Iraq, who lack the religious hierarchy of the Shiites. Partly for that reason, the Sunnis were unable to organize as effectively as the Shiites, who dominated the January 2005 elections.

But the example of the Shiites, who formed a powerful political alliance under Ayatollah Sistani's guidance, pushed Sunnis toward their own religious leaders in the December vote.

"In the last election, they saw themselves in danger, so they decided to elect a Sunni list," said Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni Arab leader whose secular party received far fewer votes than the Iraqi Consensus Front, a Sunni group with a strong religious bent.

To some extent, the American government did recognize a need to court moderate religious figures who could play roles in Iraq's future. Even before the 2003 invasion, American officials allied themselves with exiled clerics like Ayad Jamal Addin and Sheik Abdel Majid al-Khoei, a member of one of Iraq's most prominent Shiite families.

But the Americans seemed unaware of the complex and deadly rivalries among Iraq's religious factions. After being brought back to Iraq by the Americans in 2003, Mr. Khoei was stabbed to death in the Shiite holy city of Najaf by followers of Mr. Sadr. That killing led the American occupation authority to issue an arrest warrant for Mr. Sadr, which was dropped after he led two bloody uprisings in 2004 and became one of Iraq's most powerful figures.

Mr. Sadr's family has long been engaged in a rivalry with the Shiite religious establishment in Iraq, known as the Hawza. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Sadr's revered father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was one of the few clerics to openly defy the dictator. He also expressed contempt for Ayatollah Sistani and other senior clerics, calling them the "Silent Hawza" for their complacent attitude in the face of tyranny. The young Sadr claimed his father's mantle after Mr. Hussein had the elder Sadr and his two eldest sons killed in 1999.

The militancy and growing power of Mr. Sadr and Mr. Hakim are upending the Shiite hierarchy, in which four grand clerics in Najaf are supposed to wield the most influence. When Mr. Sadr led his two anti-American uprisings in 2004, taking the city of Najaf hostage, Ayatollah Sistani initially watched helplessly from his home there.

The stridency of Mr. Sadr and Mr. Hakim has also contributed in pushing the older clerics to adopt a more aggressive tone toward Sunni militants, especially as the patience of the Shiite people wears thin in the face of relentless slaughter. After the shrine bombing on Wednesday, Ayatollah Sistani called on "believers" to defend religious sites if the government was unable to do so — exactly the same language that Mr. Sadr used in telling the Mahdi Army to defend places of worship.

The tensions between Mr. Sadr and Mr. Hakim have affected virtually every aspect of Iraqi society. Each man has staked out territory in the police and commando forces by swelling the ranks of those units with their militiamen. This month, Mr. Sadr played the role of kingmaker by throwing his support to Mr. Jaafari during a Shiite vote for the prime ministerial nominee, effectively blocking Mr. Hakim's candidate. Occasionally the rivalry explodes into violence, as it did last summer when Sadr militiamen stormed Supreme Council offices across the south.

Given all this, and amid the growing sectarian bloodshed, the voices of religious moderates like Ayatollah Sistani are increasingly falling on deaf ears. Shiite tribes "have put a lot of pressure on Sistani in the last year to go for revenge," said Mr. Hiltermann of the Crisis Group. "People are just not listening anymore in the face of these sick outrages."