Iraqi Sunnis forced to abandon homes and identity in battle for survival

The Guardian reports: Last November, with his home in flames and his father missing, 21-year-old Omar Mazen abandoned his home town of Baquba and fled to the Iraqi capital, 60 miles south.

But his home was not the only thing he left behind. He also decided to abandon his name.

The journey was perilous. At every checkpoint, Shia militiamen or Iraqi soldiers read his papers and stared suspiciously at his identifiably Sunni name. “I didn’t want to show them,” he said. “I was terrified every time. So many Sunnis had disappeared at checkpoints and my father was one of them.”

Somehow, he made it through the heart of the fight against Islamic State that was raging all along the highway. But afterwards he faced a constant dilemma of how to stay safe in a city and society in which Sunni Iraqis – the core of the ruling class under Saddam Hussein – were often viewed by the new Shia-led establishment as either enablers or agents of the extremist insurgency.

Mazen decided to change his name to a more neutral Ammar, and seek refuge among the Shias. In February, he went to the residency office and started the process. “They were helpful,” he said of the government officials he dealt with – not an observation often made about Iraq’s turgid bureaucracy. “They said it would take about a month.”

Mazen’s dilemma reflects the latest upheaval in Iraq, as its existential fight against Isis approaches a second year. In the past 10 months, huge numbers of people – perhaps a quarter of the population – have again been displaced, and Iraq’s social fabric, badly frayed through the years of civil war, is once more being tested. [Continue reading…]

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