The Pogrom Starts Again: Roma Hunting in Iraq

Few people took notice of the last pogrom of the second millennium, when the allies of the West drove the Roma, or "Gypsies", out of the land in Kosovo where they had lived for centuries. Elsewhere on this site you can read one of the few narratives of this forgotten deportation.   

Four years have gone by, and another humanitarian war has brought about its collateral damage: an even more ancient community of the Roma is being driven, this time from Iraq. Mesopotamia, in fact, was an earlier stopping place along the road which led these people from India to Spain.   

The world is falling back into the Dark Ages: the most ancient works of human civilization were destroyed in one glorious day of modernization, during the sack of the Baghdad Museum. However, the great whirlpool of global violence is also destroying all the peoples who once used to live together. Because war does not only bring about death and destruction; it also releases the worst instincts in all of us, with effects which are impossible to predict.   

A hundred years ago, dozens, perhaps hundreds of different peoples, belonging to many different religions, used to live between Istria and Basra, in a great sweep of earth which had been under Ottoman rule for centuries. The Sultans of Istanbul were certainly not the most enlightened or efficient rulers in history, and this fact makes what happened after their fall even more tragic. It is ironical to note that it was the triumph of the West, with its much boasted tolerance, which led to the destruction of these worlds, devoured by nationalism and the breakdown of cultures.   

It is interesting to note the similarities between the fate of the Roma in Kosovo and in Iraq.    

There is a curious paradox here for the romantics, who see the "gypsy way of life" as a happy alternative to the rigours of the state. There is no need to love Tito, Saddam Hussein, or Milosevic, to understand that without a strong state, the weak succumb. As in Yugoslavia, the Iraqi Roma received recognition, rights, and - as we can see from this article - homes as well from the state. In Italy, they still live in so-called "nomads' camps"... When globalization destroys strong states, through reforms or through violence, the first to suffer are always the Roma.   

As everywhere else, the Roma are suspected of all kinds of misdeeds. True, the Roma live suspended in a condition somewhere between mere survival and extinction, and this leads to widespread forms of petty crime. However, read the article below carefully: the neighbours who have just stolen the homes of the Roma can hardly claim that the Roma stole from them; rather, they accuse the Roma of having led them into temptation, offering them alcohol and women. And they accuse the Roma of being loyal to a dictator whom everybody had loudly proclaimed their devotion to, until a few days before.   

The Roma must pay for their neighbours' sins, apparently.   

Then there is one very obvious point in common between the pogrom against the Roma in Iraq and the pogrom in Kosovo: the near total silence of the media. This is why we should be grateful for the article provided by the agency Islam On Line which we have copied here.   

Iraq’s Gypsies Struggle For Life After Saddam’s Fall   

By Imam El-Liethy, Islam On Line Iraq Correspondent   

BAGHDAD, May 6 ( & News Agencies) – Iraq’s gypsies are suffering continued harassment from nearby Baghdad tribes and were forced to flee their homes when U.S. forces trundled into the Iraqi capital and declared the downfall of Saddam Hussein.   

Iraqi Roma

Before the U.S.-led war was unleashed on March 20, there were 10,000 gypsies in Baghdad, whose reported practices of woman trading and selling drinks left them as isolated as abhorred from locals.    

Most of them have been forced to leave their homes now that Saddam, who had given them shelter, is no longer in control.    

The Iraqi leader allowed the bad-reputed gypsies to settle down in Abu Ghreib district, 10 kilometers to the west of Baghdad, where the Zawabei tribe, known for its religiosity and links to Iraq’s Islamic Movement, is populated just as an act of revenge.   

Settling down the gypsies was a sort of reprisal be cause the Zawabei tribe was known for strong connections with former president Abdel-Salam Arif, tribal sources said.   

“The gypsies were straying from one place to another until the Baath Party and Saddam came to power,” said Abdullah Taha, a Zawabei tribesman.   

“We are devout people, and Saddam wanted to tarnish our image by building blocs for gypsies in our territories in 1979,” he added.   

“They were selling whisky and beer and trading women. We were concerned about the safety of our children at this atmosphere,” said Ibrahim al-Zawabei, another member of the tribe.  

With the disappearance of the Saddam regime, the country’s gypsies were severely assaulted by nearby tribesmen.   

“They attacked us with bombs and weapons, forcing 136 families to flee leaving their houses and money behind,” said Ahmed, a gypsy, in a camp down the road to Baghdad.   

Amal Hassouna, a gypsy singer, boasted that one of her friends had an affair with former Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, now on the run after being listed as one of the 55 most wanted officials hunted by the Anglo-American forces.   

But inhabitants of Abu Ghreib district denied they had booted gypsies out of their houses after the Saddam regime collapsed.   

“They were defeated… they escaped on their own,” said Mohamed Bashir Al-Bindeiri, an inhabitant of the area.   

But the runaway gypsies seem to have escaped the area out of fears that they no longer are protected.   

“They were given shelter by officials of the former regime here in exchange for presenting each one of them with women at dawn,” charged another inhabitant. 

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