Move to evict squatters from government property

The Iraqi government has decided to evict all people who have been squatting in government buildings or on government land since the 2003 US-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.



“The Iraqi Cabinet has decided to evict all squatters in or on government property - land, houses, residential buildings or offices. They will be given financial help to find alternative places to live,” said a government statement on 4 January.



It said committees would be set up to handle the evictions, which were due to begin on 1 January. Squatters had 60 days to leave or face legal action.



“The process will include media advertisements and the holding of meetings between relevant government officials and the squatters to raise awareness and discuss the negative impact of squatting on government property,” the statement said.



Grants of US$850 to US$4,300 would be paid to the squatters to help them find accommodation.



In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, hundreds of homeless people scrambled to find somewhere to live. Many moved into government-owned property - mostly buildings used by officials of Saddam’s regime.



Most of these buildings were completely or partially damaged due to the bombardment by US-led coalition forces.



Protests



Since then the squatters have held demonstrations in Baghdad and elsewhere demanding financial aid, ownership or the right to rent.



“We have no one, only God and the government to help us,” said Ali Keytan Mikhlif, a father of three believed to be in his early 40s. “We voted for this government in the last election,” Mikhlif said.



He lives in a residential complex in the Salihiyah area of central Baghdad where senior military officers of Saddam’s elite Republican Guards used to live.



“We will stage demonstrations again and again. This money is not enough to build a room and we can’t go back to [live on] the street… We call on the government to make the properties over to us, allow us to rent, or build residential compounds for us.”



Mikhlif’s neighbour, Hussein Awad Nasser, said they were being unfairly treated: “Senior officials live in houses of former officials, and claim to be leasing them from the government, so why are we the only ones who should leave?” asked Nasser, a 38-year-old who sells newspapers from a kiosk.



“I will pay as long as these officials pay and I will leave when these officials leave,” he said.



sm/ar/cb