The men gather somberly at midday on soiled straw mats under a makeshift canvas canopy in a valiant effort to simulate the traditional Arab formal reception room, but here they have no fans to keep the flies from landing, no sweets or tea to offer strangers.
They hoped that this city, holy to their Shiite sect, would welcome them and begin to heal their grief. But instead they have found themselves in a refugee camp outside the city, far from jobs and shops, squeezed five to a tent, sleeping on squalid blankets smelling of sweat, and drinking cloudy brown water hauled from a nearby ditch.
Most galling for these Shiite refugees is that they feel abandoned by the government, which is run by fellow Shiites. âWhen Maliki came to Najaf he didnât even come to see the camp; he didnât even visit his own people,â said Issa Mohammed, 47, a dignified man wearing the black checked scarf favored by tribal sheiks, referring to Iraqâs prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The scope of sectarian killings in Iraq and the relocation they have caused have yet to be publicly acknowledged by the Iraqi government. But a visit to Najaf, whose refugee population is typical of the southern provinces, lays bare the vast needs of displaced Iraqis and the rough road ahead for the project of national reconciliation.
Last week, a reporter for The Washington Post was killed while speaking to Iraqis about sectarian violence. One can hope, dream and even pray—especially pray—but it’s hard to imagine things getting better in Iraq. Sectarian violence is not the kind of conflict that fades over days or even a few years.