Iraqis are once again leaving Iraq for Syria in greater numbers than they are returning, despite the decreasing levels of bloodshed in their homeland, the UN refugee agency said yesterday.
A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), citing Syrian immigration officials, said that late last month, an average of 1,200 Iraqis came to Syria every day compared with around 700 who returned.
Most of those Iraqis who are returning say they are doing so more because their Syrian visas have expired or because they have run out of money, rather than because of an improvement in conditions in Iraq, the report said.
"The UNHCR has observed that the return movement to Iraq that increased immediately after the imposition of new visa regulations appears to have subsided," the report said.
The figures will disappoint Iraqi officials, who have pointed to a number of high-profile convoys of returning refugees as evidence that safety is returning to their war-torn cities after a year of battles with insurgents.
The UN estimates there are about 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria, including 153,516 who are formally registered as refugees from the conflict that has wracked their homeland since the US-led invasion of March 2003.
"According to an Iraqi Red Crescent report issued in January 2008, some 46,000 refugees returned home from Syria between September and December 2007, a much lower figure than that given by the Iraqi government," the report said.
The Iraqi government had given a figure of 60,000 returnees and invited reporters to homecoming ceremonies at which officials presented the refugees with gifts and boasted of the achievements of the Baghdad security plan.
About 50 dead bodies were discovered on Tuesday in a mass grave northwest of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.
US-backed Sunni tribesmen found the grave while patrolling the village of Jazeerah, 25km west of Samarra near Lake Tharthar, said Colonel Mazin Younis Hussein, the commander of the Samarra support force, a group of local men working with US forces.
Some of the bodies were severely decomposed, suggesting they had been buried months ago, while other victims appeared to have been killed recently, said Samarra police Lieutenant Muthanna Shakir, who visited the site on Tuesday and saw the bodies.
The US military in northern Iraq said it had no information about the discovery of a mass grave in the area.
As many as 200 bodies have been unearthed in recent months from mass graves around Lake Tharthar. Al-Qaeda in Iraq controlled the area, as well as huge swaths of Iraq's western deserts, until being ousted early this year in an uprising by local tribes.
In other developments, a new Iraqi flag -- stripped of the three green stars of the late Saddam Hussein's toppled Baath Party -- was hoisted over the Iraqi Cabinet building on Tuesday in a symbolic break with the past nearly five years after the US-led invasion.
new Iraqi flag
The new flag marked the latest of several tweaks and revisions -- and one failed US-crafted redesign -- of Iraq's national symbol over the decades from monarchy to military rule to the rise and fall of Saddam's regime. And more fine-tuning could come after the one-year lifespan ends for the new flag.
Its main modification removes the stars, which were first added in the early 1960s in homage to the pan-Arab bonds promoted by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser. Later, the green stars were associated with the slogans of Saddam's party: unity, freedom and socialism.
The new design also officially enshrines the new script for the Arabic words Allahu Akbar, or "God is Great" in green -- which were added after Saddam's 1990 to 1991 occupation of Kuwait. The original calligraphy -- believed inspired by Saddam's handwriting -- was replaced with the sparse Kufic script after his fall in 2003. But many houses continued to fly the old flag.
"It is a good step toward the new Iraq," said Nassih Gahfour, a lawmaker in northern Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish area, where officials had demanded the changes and threatened not to fly the flag while hosting a meeting of Arab parliament members later this month.
Apps and Web sites that use artificial intelligence (AI) to undress women in photos are soaring in popularity, researchers said. In September alone, 24 million people visited undressing Web sites, the social network analysis company Graphika said. Many of these undressing, or “nudify,” services use popular social networks for marketing, Graphika said. For instance, since the beginning of this year, the number of links advertising undressing apps increased more than 2,400 percent on social media, including on X and Reddit, the researchers said. The services use AI to recreate an image so that the person is nude. Many of the services only
JUMPING BAIL: The democracy advocate said made the decision after ‘considering the situation in Hong Kong, my personal safety, my physical and mental health’ Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow (周庭), who was jailed over her role in massive 2019 protests, on Sunday said she had moved to Canada and would not return to meet her bail conditions. Chow was one of the best-known young faces of the 2012, 2014 and 2019 protest movements against Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule in Hong Kong. She spent about seven months behind bars for her role in a protest outside Hong Kong police headquarters in 2019, when huge crowds rallied week after week in the most serious challenge to China’s rule since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover. On Sunday
TAKING STOCK: It was not yet clear how damaging the espionage, dating to 1981, has been, as authorities are still assessing the situation, the State Department said A former US ambassador to Bolivia has been arrested and charged with spying for Cuba over a 40-year span, the US Department of Justice announced on Monday, detailing a shock betrayal by a suspect who called the US “the enemy.” US Attorney General Merrick Garland laid out the allegations against Victor Manuel Rocha, a onetime member of the White House’s National Security Council now accused of using his positions within the government to support Cuba’s “clandestine intelligence-gathering mission” against the US. The charges against Rocha, 73, expose “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign
DARK WARNINGS: If Trump survives his court trials, neither the Supreme Court nor the US Constitution could stop him from becoming president for life, a ‘Post’ column said Former US president Donald Trump on Tuesday declined to rule out abusing power if he returns to the White House after Fox News host Sean Hannity asked him to respond to growing criticism of his rhetoric. The Republican presidential front-runner has talked about targeting his rivals — referring to them as “vermin” — and vowed to seek retribution if he wins a second term for what he argues are politically motivated prosecutions against him. As Trump has dominated the Republican presidential primary, US President Joe Biden has stepped up his own warnings, contending that Trump is “determined to destroy American democracy.” “Under no