Wealthy Iraqi families flee before elections
XINHUA online

Wealthy Iraqi families flee before elections 2005-01-27 09:26:05
by Shaalan Ahmed, Laith Salman

BAGHDAD, Jan. 26 (Xinhuanet) -- The past few days have witnessed the leaving of many Iraqi families to neighboring countries for fear of attacks that armed groups might launch to derail Sunday's elections.

Most of those who left the country are of the upper or middle classes and who have relatives in the neighboring countries, especially in Syria, Jordan and the Gulf Arab countries, according to some travel agencies in Baghdad.

They said that many families booked tickets to the neighboring countries to evade the possible violence and attacks during the elections, and the demand has increased remarkably in the past two days.

The wealthy Iraqi families are taking advantage of the midyear holidays to travel abroad so as to avoid the danger and enjoy a few days of rest with the children, said the owner of one of the agencies.

The past few days have witnessed the leaving of many Iraqi families to neighboring countries for fear of attacks that armed groups might launch to derail Sunday's elections.

Rawad Hassan, 26, said the family of his friend Sahal had left Iraq a week before the scheduled elections because their house is close to one of the schools.

"They feared that it could become a voting center and thus become a target for attacks," Rawad said.

He explained that Sahal's family preferred staying in Iraq but the deteriorating security condition forced them to leave.

"The family is rich and could afford the expenses. They would not return within a month," Rawad added.

Iraqis are due to vote on Jan. 30 to choose 275 members of a national assembly, whose key task will be to debate and approve a new constitution.

But there are many reasons to make the Iraqi families, especially the wealthy ones to leave the war-torn country.

Besides the power cut, shortage of fuel and the cut of drinking water, Abu Musaab Al Zarqawi, an ally of al-Qaida and the most wanted man in Iraq, announced a few days ago in a video tape posted on the internet that he is launching war against the Iraq elections.

During the past two days, 10 voting centers in the governorate of Salah Al Deen were attacked by mortar rounds, and three others in the south were under similar attacks.

The interim Iraqi government has taken some security precautions to safeguard the security of the voters and announced holidays starting from Jan. 29 to Jan. 31, in addition to banning traveling between Iraqi governorates.

A new curfew would be imposed from 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) until 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) starting on Friday evening until Tuesday in several places in the country, and Baghdad international airport would be closed for Jan. 29 and Jan. 30.

Despite all the precautions, the Iraqi government conceded that it would be impossible to prevent all possible actions against the elections.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said any security plan could not be ideal and would always have loopholes.

Among the fleeing Iraqi families, some trips unfortunately ended in tragedy.

Abu Sinan, 68, said the family of his neighbor left Iraq on the first day of Eid El Adha for Syria to avoid possible attacks during the elections.

But they had an accident on the road and three members of the family died, he said.

As for those families which choose to stay, some have started to prepare for the election day as if they were preparing for a war, storing plenty of food, fuel and water, observers said.

Copyright ©2003 Xinhua News Agency. All rights reserved.
all photos taken 26.1.05 by Ali Al-Shouk for Xinhua

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