Iraq is among the many Arab countries where Palestinians continue to face discriminatory measures and laws. Worse, it seems the Iraqi authorities are carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing against the few thousand Palestinians who still live in Iraq. Pictured: A man rides a bicycle under Palestinian flags hung for the celebrations marking “Al-Quds Day,” on May 22, 2020 in Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images)

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has invited Iraq to send observers to monitor the Palestinian parliamentary elections, if and when they are held on May 22. The invitation was extended to Mohamed al-Halbousi, Speaker of the Council of Representatives of Iraq, by the PA ambassador to Iraq, Ahmed Akl, during a meeting in Baghdad.

It is not clear whether the Iraqis have accepted the invitation. What is clear, however, is that Iraq is among the many Arab countries where Palestinians continue to face discriminatory measures and laws.

Worse, it seems the Iraqi authorities are carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing against the few thousand Palestinians who still live in Iraq.

According to a recent report, the Iraqi authorities are now demanding that Palestinians who leave Iraq for a period exceeding three months apply for an entry visa.

A member of the Iraqi parliament told the pan-Arab media outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has circulated a directive preventing the return of any Palestinian who spends more than three months outside Iraq, unless he or she is granted an entry visa by an Iraqi embassy.

The unnamed MP said that the directive requires the Palestinian to explain the reason why he or she stayed out of Iraq for more than three months. The new measure, he added, also applies to Palestinians who were born in Iraq.

Some Palestinians who approached the Iraqi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain an entry visa so that they could return to their homes in Iraq were turned away, the Iraqi MK disclosed. “This is an immoral decision that is incompatible with the slogans raised by Iraq in support of the Palestinian issue,” he remarked.

The new measure means that hundreds of Palestinians who left Iraq for various purposes, including medical treatment or education, will find now find it difficult to return to their homes. These Palestinians, who were never granted Iraqi citizenship, will become refugees in the countries they are visiting. The number of Palestinians residing in Iraq fell sharply from about 40,000 before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 to fewer than 4,000 today.

Many Palestinians fled Iraq after they were exposed to campaigns of violence and killing from Iraqi militiamen, who accused them of being affiliated with the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“Palestinians have effectively been stripped of their identity and travel documents by successive Iraqi governments,” according to another report by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

“Having been maligned as being ‘Baathist loyalists’ and ‘Saddam’s favorites,’ Palestinians refugees were heavily targeted by sectarian Shia militias. In 2003 alone, 344 Palestinian families were forcibly expelled from their homes by militias. Between 2003 and 2016, an estimated 300 Palestinian refugees were killed by these militias. The Iraqi authorities largely turned a blind eye, as Palestinians have been demonized even in social media posts as potential ‘terrorists’ by accounts linked to the [Iraqi] interior ministry.”

In 2017, Iraqi President Fuad Masum approved a law that stripped Palestinian refugees living in Iraq of their rights and classified them as foreigners.

The Palestinian Return Center condemned in the strongest terms the law and said it discriminates against Palestinians living in Iraq. The center called on the international community to condemn the new legislation and apply strong pressure on the Iraqi government to respect its international obligations toward the Palestinians.

The international community and so-called pro-Palestinian groups and individuals, however, have still not uttered a word about the discriminatory measures targeting the Palestinians living in Iraq.

The international reaction would, of course, have been completely different if Israel taken such measures against Palestinians. Evidently, no one really does care about the plight of the Palestinians. They are only cared about if they can be made to appear as victims of Israel, never of an Arab country.

A Palestinian man who left Iraq for leg surgery in Turkey was quoted as saying that the Iraqi embassy in Turkey refused his request for an entry visa more than once. “I don’t know where to go now,” he said. “I was born in Iraq and I have no other place to go. My family and all my relatives live in Iraq.”

Thamer Ali, a 66-year-old Palestinian from Iraq, said that the Iraqi government “still deals with us as foreigners, and we have no right to employment or work in governmental or private institutions.”

Ali said that he and other Palestinians living in Iraq have appealed to the Palestinian Authority for help “dozens of times,” to no avail.

The Palestinian Authority’s silence about the mistreatment of Palestinians in Iraq comes as no surprise. Palestinian leaders are much too busy attacking Israel and demanding that the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecute Israelis for alleged “war crimes” against the Palestinians to notice the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of an Arab country.

This ongoing silence means that soon no Palestinians will remain in Iraq.

The ICC, which appears obsessed with Israel, is unlikely to launch an investigation into Iraq’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Likewise, the United Nations Security Council is unlikely to hold an emergency session to denounce Iraq for its discriminatory measures against the Palestinians. The international media, for its part, will also continue their usually venomous — and usually unjustified — attacks on Israel, while ignoring the horrendous treatment the Palestinians receive from their Arab brothers.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.

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