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Iraqi refugees spur housing boom

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis have flooded Damascus and Amman driving up the price of real estate.

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When Abu Omar left Baghdad late last year to escape the war, he was desperate to find a safe home for his wife and three children in Syria.

So when he arrived in Damascus he took the first apartment he found - a sparsely furnished one-bedroom in Masaken Birzeh, a working-class neighborhood outside the capital.

What he didn't anticipate was having to pay some $300 a month for a bare, run-down apartment - double the cost of what a modest one-bedroom would have rented for just two years ago.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis have been fleeing the violence and kidnappings for the safety and conveniences of nearby Damascus and Amman. And with their influx to Syria's and Jordan's capitals, the high demand for housing has sent rents skyrocketing and caused a real estate bubble that will probably be deflated only when Iraq is free of the daily barrage of suicide bombings that has made it so treacherous.

While the high cost of post-invasion living has made it harder for poorer Iraqis to find housing, it has been a boon for many Syrian and Jordanian homeowners and real estate developers who are profiting from the influx of Iraqis.

"When they see someone who is desperate, they know they can charge a lot," says Abu Omar, who now lives in a similar one-bedroom for about $220 per month. "When we were in Baghdad all we saw were people with guns. So when I came here I wanted anything. And my financial situation is much better than others."

Just before the invasion of Iraq, rich Iraqis flooded Amman and Damascus' wealthier districts, bought and built homes, and helped raise the cost of real estate prices in both cities - often causing Jordanians and Syrians to no longer to be able to afford the rising costs of homes and putting added pressure on the newer waves of less-fortunate Iraqis also escaping the violence.

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