August 19, 2013

In mass exodus, thousands of Syrians flee to Iraq

The sudden exodus of around 30,000 Syrians amid the summer heat has created desperate conditions and left aid agencies and the regional government struggling to accommodate them

By Sinan Salaheddin and Zeina Karam / The Associated Press

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In this photo provided by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and taken on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, Syrian refugees cross the border toward Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point at Dahuk, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.


Bahzad Ali Adam, deputy governor of Iraq's Dahuk province, which borders Syria, said the latest flow will put more strain on the budget and public services in the region, which is also home to thousands of mainly Iraqi Arabs and Christians who have fled the violence in other parts of the country.

"The refugees need a place to live, food and health services," Adam, who heads the operation room to receive Syrian refugees, said in a phone interview from Baghdad.

Earlier this month, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, vowed to defend Syria's Kurds. He gave no details on how he would do so, but Iraqi Kurdistan boasts a powerful and experienced armed force known as the peshmerga.

Armed intervention by Iraqi Kurds would carry enormous risks and appears unlikely. Still, the pledge, along with the fighting, shows the potential of Syria's conflict to spread to neighboring countries and become a full-blown regional war.

The Kurdish exodus is just one layer in Syria's increasingly complex civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people, ripped apart the country's delicate sectarian fabric and destroyed cities and towns. Assad's regime has used warplanes, tanks and ballistic missiles to try to pound rebellious areas into submission.

The rebels, along with the U.S. and other Western powers, say the Assad regime has also used chemical weapons in the conflict. The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, blame the opposition for the alleged chemical attacks.

On Monday, a team of U.N. experts began their long-awaited investigation into the purported used of chemical arms.

The team's task is to determine whether chemical weapons have been used, and if so, which ones. Its mandate does not extend to establishing who was responsible for an attack, and that has led some observers to question the overall value of the probe.

In Monday's violence, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces in the coastal province of Latakia recaptured nine villages as well as all of the hilltop military observation posts that rebels seized two weeks ago.

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