Chaos as Iraq's borders re-open

Thousands of Iraqis gather to cross into Syria after borders shut for three days.

    Iraq's border with Syria and Iran were closed
    on February 14 [File: GALLO/GETTY]

    The ending of a three-day border closure between Iraq and Syria has led to chaotic scenes at two crossings as more people try to escape the continuing violence in Iraq.

    There was "pandemonium" at the Rabia border crossing as thousands of civilians converged on what was one of the only two entry points into Syria on Sunday.

    According to witnesses, the congestion was the result of the closure of the Iraqi border since February 14, when authorities implemented a new security crackdown in the capital Baghdad.

    The border reopened late on Saturday.

    Families with young children pleaded with Iraqi border officials to process their passports but the seven employees manning the crossing were clearly overwhelmed, travellers told Al Jazeera.

    As a persistent throng tried to push their way into the passport processing centre, one border policeman started shouting at everyone to move back.

    "He called us animals and illiterate sheep as he used his rifle to push us back," Nader, a physical education instructor from Mosul, said.

    When Iraqi border police failed to halt the stream of people surrounding the processing centre, US soldiers moved into the crowds with police dogs in hopes of bringing order.

    Later, they fired shots into the air to disperse the crowds, witnesses said.

    The shots could be clearly heard at the al-Ya'roubia crossing on the Syrian side of the border.

    Security checks

    At 3pm, after all efforts to stabilise the situation failed, Iraqi border police collected all the passports and proceeded to issue exit stamps, abandoning once rigid security checks.

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    "They stopped taking pictures of every person … they didn't even check most of the passports – they just wanted to process us as fast as they could to alleviate the growing crowds," Riath, a car mechanic from Baghdad, told Al Jazeera.

    He said he had slept in his car for a day and a half waiting for the border to re-open.

    Severe rain fell for most of the day creating a massive mud pit around the processing centre further worsening the situation at the crossing.

    Men, women and children tried to push into the centre to avoid the cold and rain: "We were knee-deep in mud, all of us … even the US soldier and his police dog were patrolling in a huge puddle," Riath said.

    Syrian side

    Once past the Iraqi border point and into Syria, however, the process was more streamlined.

    "It took us six hours on the Iraqi side, but only two on the Syrian side," Ibrahim Khoshnow, a Kurdish merchant from Irbil, who regularly travels to the northern Syrian town of Qamishli, said.

    At one point, an Iraqi border official came to the Syrian side and asked them to allow more commercial trucks in.

    The Syrian official fired back "don't tell me how to do my job, the congestion is due to the situation you have on your side".

    Witnesses said commercial traffic was stopped at the border and the queue extended some 40km into Iraqi territory.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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