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IRAQ: Tents get no takers from Sadr City

May 9, 2008 | 11:00 am

A lone horned sheep stood still behind the chain-link fence surrounding Shaab Stadium, staring at the vehicles and people going in and out, perhaps fearing he would lose his grazing grounds.

The people setting up the displaced camp in the stadium today didn't seem in any rush, despite the fact that some media outlets had announced that the government was advising Sadr City residents to evacuate their homes in anticipation of a security crackdown against the Mahdi Army militia there.

Twenty-five tents had been set up so far in the middle of the grass field. More tents were strewn on the ground, ready to be erected.

Iraqi Army Col. Abdul-Ameer Rasan Saqr, the man in charge of the operation, said the plan was to be ready for an influx of about 10,000 people in the coming days.

"We are coordinating this effort between various government institutions, including the Ministries of Health, Human Rights and Trade," said the colonel from behind his desk, a poster of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's father on the wall behind him.

Saqr, who was meeting with the local municipal chief, Abdul-Jabaar Jezairi, was somewhat reluctant to talk to the media. He accused the press of misreporting the government's intentions in Sadr City. "Nobody ordered that Sadr City residents evacuate their homes and come here," he said. "We're just preparing in the event that an unforeseen refugee crisis arises due to the current security operations."

Only Sadr City residents are allowed at this camp, which has made for some awkward moments.

Several families from other areas arrived Thursday but were turned away. "There was also this crazy guy who drove in with his girlfriend and wanted to stay with her overnight. We had to kick them out. He just wanted to have a free honeymoon," Saqr said, laughing.

Sadr City residents have to get accreditation from one of their local police stations to qualify to stay in the stadium.

"I don't know when or if they will start coming. And when or if they do, I don't know how long they will stay. Sixty days, months? I'm just doing what I have been ordered to do," Saqr said.

Outside, none of the workers seemed to be setting up tents anymore. Soldiers stood around chatting or smoking cigarettes while the lone sheep grazed peacefully, ignorant of the fact that not only could it lose its grazing area, it could end up as dinner for several people in the event there was an influx of displaced from Sadr City.

-- Said Rifai in Baghdad

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