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Iraq's Gypsies Struggle for Life After Saddam's Fall

By Imam El-Liethy

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BAGHDAD, May 6 ( & News Agencies) – Iraq’s gypsies are suffering continued harassment from nearby Baghdad tribes and were forced to flee their homes when U.S. forces trundled into the Iraqi capital and declared the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi Roma
Before the U.S.-led war was unleashed on March 20, there were 10,000 gypsies in Baghdad, whose reported practices of woman trading and selling drinks left them as isolated as abhorred from locals.

Most of them have been forced to leave their homes now that Saddam, who had given them shelter, is no longer in control.

The Iraqi leader allowed the bad-reputed gypsies to settle down in Abu Ghreib district, 10 kilometers to the west of Baghdad, where the Zawabei tribe, known for its religiosity and links to Iraq’s Islamic Movement, is populated just as an act of revenge.

Settling down the gypsies was a sort of reprisal be cause the Zawabei tribe was known for strong connections with former president Abdel-Salam Arif, tribal sources said.

“The gypsies were straying from one place to another until the Baath Party and Saddam came to power,” said Abdullah Taha, a Zawabei tribesman.

“We are devout people, and Saddam wanted to tarnish our image by building blocs for gypsies in our territories in 1979,” he added. “They were selling whisky and beer and trading women. We were concerned about the safety of our children at this atmosphere,” said Ibrahim al-Zawabei, another member of the tribe.

With the disappearance of the Saddam regime, the country’s gypsies were severely assaulted by nearby tribesmen.

“They attacked us with bombs and weapons, forcing 136 families to flee leaving their houses and money behind,” said Ahmed, a gypsy, in a camp down the road to Baghdad.

Amal Hassouna, a gypsy singer, boasted that one of her friends had an affair with former Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, now on the run after being listed as one of the 55 most wanted officials hunted by the Anglo-American forces.

But inhabitants of Abu Ghreib district denied they had booted gypsies out of their houses after the Saddam regime collapsed.

“They were defeated… they escaped on their own,” said Mohamed Bashir Al-Bindeiri, an inhabitant of the area.

But the runaway gypsies seem to have escaped the area out of fears that they no longer are protected.

“They were given shelter by officials of the former regime here in exchange for presenting each one of them with women at dawn,” charged another inhabitant.

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