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Syria and Jordan: The Iraqi Exodus

An exodus of more than 2 million Iraqis is reshaping the Middle East -- with ominous implications for the region.

Driven out of Iraq and into neighboring countries by sectarian violence, a once prosperous middle class is drawing down savings -- and fueling local resentments. The newcomers are blamed for burdening public services, crowding schools and driving up housing costs, even as they struggle for survival.

Iraqi Professionals are reduced to accepting handouts. Children are going unschooled. Girls are turning to prostitution.

Iraq, meanwhile, is missing a population vital to its peaceful reconstruction.

Matthew Hay Brown travels to Syria and Jordan, the countries that have taken in the greatest number of Iraqis, to record the voices of a new diaspora -- and to explore what their dispersal means for the future of Iraq, and of the Middle East.

Matthew is the Pulitzer Center World Affairs Journalism Fellow at the International Center for Journalists.

US Slow to Meet Needs, Refugees Say

DOUMA, Syria - Mustafa Hamad Rassoul doesn't see how his family can survive.

Back in Baghdad, the 55-year-old Iraqi Kurd says, the money he made running a clothing shop was more than enough to house and feed his two wives and 10 children. But here in Syria, where he came last year after being threatened by the Mahdi Army, the food and cash assistance his family receives doesn't last the month.

Rassoul blames the United States.

Iraqis Keep Low Profile in Neighboring States

DAMASCUS, Syria -- These refugees aren't in camps. And that's making it more difficult for aid workers to address their growing needs.

The great majority of Iraqis who have come to Syria have settled in and around the capital. Most have disappeared into the cosmopolitan population of this Middle Eastern hub; many are intentionally keeping their profiles low, for fear of being caught, detained, and sent back to Iraq.

The pattern is the same in Jordan, Lebanon and other Iraqi neighbors.

Nostalgia for Saddam Hussein's Rule

AMMAN, Jordan - Najim Abid Hajwal has been having a difficult time renewing his passport.

He submitted his paperwork at the Iraqi Embassy here but was told days later that he was a wanted man back home in Iraq. It turned out that the Interior Ministry was after someone with a similar name. He submitted a new set of papers to prove his identity but was issued a passport with a wrong name.

It's enough to make an Iraqi nostalgic for the good old days.

"Under Saddam, a ministry was a ministry," Hajwal says. "It functioned. It served the people.

Syria Sees No Sectarian Strife Among Iraqis

SAIDA ZAINAB, Syria - As a Sunni Muslim married to a Shia, Hamid Al Dulayme was threatened by both sides in Baghdad. When militia members broke into his house in 2005, he fled Iraq.

In Syria, he says, he has left sectarian conflict behind.

"The best thing here is there is no problem between different groups," Dulayme says.

When Iraqis began pouring into Syria two and a half years ago, authorities here feared that they would bring their country's sectarian divide with them.