Other Sunni families have been ethnically cleansed and forced to take refuge in Dhuluiyyah.
Now as we all know, the phrase "ethnic cleansing" came into wide usage in the 90's during the Yugoslav war(s) to describe the forcible removal of various populations from certain areas. "Ethnic" and "areas" seem to be the key concepts here and that is why I find the above statement rather odd.
First of all, the incident described involves people of same ethnic origin, but different religious persuasions. The atrocities comitted by Sunnis on Shiites and vice-versa would therefore be most fittingly referred to as confessional cleansing (and believe it or not, I got 105 Google hits).
And secondly, ethnic cleansing or indeed any kind of cleansing and cleaning requires an object, something the dirt or filth is removed from. Tools can be cleansed, houses can be cleansed, files can be cleansed (either of incriminating data or formatting). But families? What can they be cleansed of? Could it be that the object of this verb phrase is not something the dirt is removed from, but rather something to be removed as dirt?
Apparently so. And it's not the first time these words are used in this manner, as evidenced by this 1999 Time article on the forgotten victims of the Yugoslav war(s):
The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s estimated 100,000 Gypsies began only after the Serbs withdrew...
Here (and in many other similar contexts) we have a group of people who have been removed from a territory. And while the act of such removal can be described as "ethnic cleansing" of the said territory, the phrase "ethnic cleansing of people X" clearly means "the removal of people X", without any indication as to where from, i.e. without any indication as to what is being cleaned. Similarly, the verb "to ethnically cleanse" (as in the example by Juan Cole above) can only mean "to drive out, to expel, to remove, to displace" (of a group of people). I suspect that once the original term gained wide circulation, the emergence of the verb "to ethnically cleanse" was only inevitable. But still, it is a rather interesting shift. Any other thoughts?
P.S.: I wish this phrase and this post had never existed. I really do.