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By Sam Dagher| Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

November 30, 2007 edition

Al-Manathra, Iraq - Abdul-Hassan Hussein has heard that security is improving in his Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliya, recently a hotbed of Sunni extremists who were targeting Shiites like himself.

But Mr. Hussein is not rushing back just yet, as relatives there say it's too soon to know if the quiet will last.

While the return of some of the estimated 2.2 million refugees in Syria and neighboring countries is being heralded by Iraqi officials as a sign of progress in Baghdad, many of the Shiites in this refugee camp, who have come here because it's close to their holy city of Najaf, will stay until they are convinced the sectarian warfare in Baghdad has truly ended.

Mr. Hussein and his family - he is a father of eight who is also caring for the 10-member family of his brother, killed in Ghazaliya at the height of sectarian bloodshed last year - are among the 2.3 million Iraqis considered internally displaced as of the end of September. That number is 16 percent higher than August, according the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization (IRCO).

And as the number of the internally displaced is growing, aid workers say the conditions they are living in is growing worse. They say it is becoming especially tough for children 12 and under, who make up 65 percent of the total number of internally displaced Iraqis.

Aid agencies say the situation is getting harsher because of dwindling aid from international agencies and an overwhelmed central government in Baghdad. Hussein and his family have been living with 2,000 other people in the camp for more than a year now.


Although the refugees in Al-Manathra are closely watched and guarded by Najaf authorities, they have been more fortunate than many other war refugees.

They have clean drinking water, the province is building them trailers to replace tents, and they are aided by the offices of the city's many clerics. The office of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who controls the Mahdi Army, has even donated a generator.

But while things here may be better than in other refugee camps throughout the country, its residents say that they are particularly worried about the children living here.

"The trauma alone from the violence they have been exposed to will have huge consequences for years to come," says Mr. Mofarah.

Abu Noor, the mayor of the Al-Manathra camp, says he has 600 children age 15 and below and that many are showing signs of malnutrition. Frail, disheveled, and barefoot children running amid puddles of still and muddy water are a common sight at the camp.