>Today (Thursday) was my last day with EPIC, and so my last day as a regular contributor to this blog. On Sunday I leave for a 6-8 month trip that will take me through India, E. Africa and the Middle East. After that, who knows…
It has been a real pleasure writing for this blog. I appreciate all the comments that people have left over the last 7 or so months and truly enjoyed all the conversations that I have had with many of you both on and off this blog. Until next time.
>Today, the Senate passed their version of the Iraq spending bill that the House passed last week. The Senate legislation includes some hopeful signs that Congress is changing its focus on America’s Iraq policy, including a $130 million allocation for Iraq’s refugees and internally displaced persons and an appropriation of $500 million above and beyond the President’s request in economic assistance to foster development and job creation. No question that these are hopeful signs. Their inclusion in the spending bill means that the Senate listened to what many, including America’s top general in Iraq, have been saying: the US cannot and will not bring stability to Iraq simply by flexing its military muscle; economic and diplomatic work must be done along side military operations. By sending money to bolster humanitarian efforts and development projects in Iraq, the Senate has brought important and too-often underfunded peace building tactics into America’s Iraq strategy. Hopeful signs are starting to come from the administration as well. Just this week Secretary of State Rice travelled to the Middle East to help thaw the currently frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which the Iraq Study Group correctly assessed as a destabilizing force throughout the Middle East. Any diplomatic efforts that seek to find solutions to the crisis in Iraq must also address the half-century long animosities between Palestine and Israel, said the Study Group. Another good sign on the diplomatic front is America’s willingness to engage in talks with Syria and Iran about stabilizing Iraq. You should keep an eye out for further collaboration, because UNHCR will be hosting a conference next month on Iraq’s humanitarian and refugee crises. These positive changes don’t happen spontaneously. They are the product of hard work by people like Dr. Lisa Schirch, interviewed by EPIC for our Ground Truth Project series, who helps our leaders to broaden their conceptions of how to achieve national security. Her organization–dubbed the “3D Security Initiative” for the three “d’s” of defense, diplomacy, and development–seeks to promote the encorporation of all three of these tools into American foreign policy, not only to stabilize Iraq, but to also to reinforce US domestic security.
>Last week I discussed the difficulties internally displaced people (IDP’s) were having in the Kurdish north of Iraq; entry restrictions are strict, cost of living is prohibitively high and little to no aid is allocated for those who have fled their homes with little more than the clothes on their back.
Unfortunatly, the Refugees Internationalreport I referenced is one of the only places in which the IDP situation is discussed at length. Most U.S., U.N. and even Iraqi institutions fail to even acknowledge that there is an IDP crisis.
The RI report, however, seems to have created a little bit of momentum. Yesterday IraqSlogger published a piece detailing the plight of IDP’s in the south of Iraq. According to local officials in the southern provinces, there are nearly a million displaced people in urgent need of food, medicines and municipal services. And unlike the Kurdish north, which is protected by its own security forces, much of the south is plagued by violence. Thus even though aid may be available, often times it cannot be delivered due to security concerns. The south is also considerably poorer than the north and so can offer few jobs to the massive influx of IDP’s.
Fareed Abbas, a spokesman for Najaf-based NGO the Muslim Organisation for Peace (MOP), said the central government was unwilling to provide sufficient funds to develop sanitation, education and electricity projects in the southern provinces:
“We have appealed dozens of times to the central government to help in such critical circumstances but we haven’t got any response yet. Instead, over the past few months, their assistance has decreased considerably, leaving people without support and infrastructure.”
Dr. Aziz Ali Baroud, a physician at Najaf Main Hospital, explains that the health care system cannot cope with the dramatic increase in people:
“At least one person dies in our hospital every day due to lack of assistance or medicines. If you add all the people dying for the same reason in all the hospitals in the southern provinces, the number becomes very serious.”
———– Only recently did the U.S. and international community acknowledge the refugees crisis. It took intense lobbying, multiple public awareness campaigns, tens of op-eds and several Congressional hearings, but eventually the scope and implications of the crisis were appreciated by one and all: The State Department created a displacement task force, the U.S. upped its quota for accepting Iraqi refugees, the Senate included $65 million in their version of the supplemental to deal with the crisis and the international community collectively provided millions more.
With tens of thousands of Iraqis being displaced within Iraq every month, I can only hope that it will not take as long to begin effectively addressing the crisis now that people are becoming aware of its scope. It is a good sign, however, that the Senate version of the supplemental provides $65 million for just Iraqi IDP’s alone. We can only hope that whatever ultimately happens to the Senate version -veto or no veto- this provision makes it through to the final spending bill.
Just wanted to let everyone know about a very interesting book that was just published. The book entitled The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War Losing the Peace, is particularly interesting as it was written by Ali Allawi, who for thirty years was an opposition leader against the Baathist regime. After the fall of Saddam, Allawi held several high-ranking positions including posts as finance and defense minister. Here then we have one of the most comprehensive accounts by an Iraqi insider on the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
The book itself examines what the U.S. did or didn’t know at the time of the invasion, the reasons for the confused policies enacted and the emergence of the Iraqi political class during the transition period. Allawi also tracks the rise of the insurgency and analyzes the relationship between the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. I definitely recommend picking up this book at your local bookstore or if you would rather purchase it online, consider doing so from this link, as a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. For other reading recommendations be sure to visit EPIC’s Best Books on Iraq site.
I went to a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing yesterday concerning the plight of the millions of displaced Iraqis, both within and outside Iraq. The panelists testimonies covered a number of topics: personal stories of Iraqi civilians who have aided the U.S. and therefore are facing extreme danger; the millions of Iraqis living outside of the country and the humanitarian crisis in which they find themselves; the challenges lawmakers must confront in backing legislation that funds acceleration of the resettlement process; as well as the need for the U.S. to finally come to terms with the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq and accept the moral responsibility of addressing it.
The first panel consisted of Ellen Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. The second panel was made up of Major General Paul D. Eaton; George Packer, staff writer at The New Yorker; Kristele Younes, refugee advocate at Refugees International; and a former employee of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad who, for security purposes, had to go by the alias “Sarah.”
The common theme of the hearing was that it has taken the Administration and lawmakers far too long to acknowledge and address the suffering of displaced Iraqis, especially those who have risked their lives by working with American and Coalition forces. Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey attempted to explain why admitting Iraqi refugees into the U.S. is such a lengthy process and why the Administration has not taken legislative or monetary steps to provide relief and safety for the 3.9 million displaced Iraqis. She explained that the Presidential determination for resettlement this year is 70,000 inclusive, and that 10% of that–or 7,000 spots–is designated for Iraqis. Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, suggested that 7,000 is UNHCR’s capacity for processing refugees, not ours. He went on to state that there is a nonpartisan consensus that the problem should be addressed and that questions should be asked.
Chairman Gary L. Ackerman of New York agreed, stating that if lawmakers and the Administration were serious about processing Iraqi refugees it could be done. Sauerbrey argued that since 9/11, and the Immigration of Nationality Act, the process has gotten much longer for Homeland Security to conduct security clearances. Four to six months is the average length of time for someone to go through the process of asylum.
Many obstacles are facing Iraqis as they seek refuge. For example, there is no way of processing IDPs for resettlement; they must first leave Iraq under extremely dangerous conditions and then apply through UNHCR in a neighboring country. If someone has paid a ransom for a kidnapped family member, or paid off the insurgency for their own lives, the U.S. considers this “providing material support to terrorists”and the individuals will not be granted visas under the provisions of the PATRIOT and Real ID Acts. Iraqis who worked or are still working with the U.S. are not allowed housing in the Green Zone, and no protection is given to them. Only 500 Special Immigrant Visas are given a year, and only to direct hires of the government; this is not including the countless Iraqis who worked for contractors and subcontractors.
Major General Eaton explained that 70,000 Chinese and 80,000 Indian immigrants were accepted into the United States in 2006. He urged lawmakers to immediately identify Iraqis who have helped the U.S. and grant them asylum, regardless of quotas. George Packer argued that, “We cannot allow more Iraqis to die while we fine-tune refugee settlement.” His first recommendation was to make in-country processing available, or at the very least, to ensure safe transfer to neighboring countries. Kristele Younes warned lawmakers that the problem stretches farther than Iraqis who have aided U.S. efforts; the millions living in Syria and Jordan, and those displaced within the country should not be forgotten. She urged an increase in funding for local Iraqi and International NGOs, as well as fully endorsing UNHCR recommendations.
“Sarah” relayed her personal story of working with the U.S. and being hopeful that she would be a part of the liberation and democratization of Iraq. She now lives in Jordan, unable to return to her home in Iraq. She did not receive protection while working for the CPA, and was eventually fired when her job was given to a Jordanian citizen. Today, “Sarah” lives in fear, with nowhere to go; she is considered by many of her countrymen to be a traitor and a spy. She said that she does not regret having worked with the Americans in Iraq, only that she trusted the U.S. government, but they never trusted Iraqis.
Real initiatives must be taken to address the plight of the 3.9 million displaced Iraqis. General Eaton asked that our government act with the dignity and respect that the Iraqi people deserve. Chairman Ackerman explained that:
If the world’s only superpower cannot protect Iraqis from the danger we put them in, then we are facing a bigger problem than I thought.
He stated that there must be funding and legislation put forth to back the rhetoric of concern coming from the Administration.
>Threw together this resource for work and thought it might interest a few of you out there.
After going through the entire Senate version of the supplemental S.965 and the committee report here are all funds I could find being appropriated for relief and development in Iraq:
$100 million for CAP, of which $5 million is for the Marla Fund
$65 million for Iraq refugees including $5 million specifically for Iraqi scholars
$65 million for Iraqi IDP’s as part of International Disaster and Famine Assistance
$55 million to replenish US Emergency Refugees and Migration Assistance Fund (could be used for Iraq)
Sec. 1711 seems to relax the restrictions for Iraqis seeking refuge in the U.S.
$5 million for Iraqi civilians who have suffered losses as a result of the military operations
$384 million for the Community Stabilization Program [CSP]
$100 million to restart state factories
$385 million for democracy, governance, human rights, and rule of law programs in Iraq including: $40 million for Human Rights; $10 million for Women’s Programs; $20 million for Support for Medial and $200 million to continue Democracy Programs, Civil Society and Political Party Development
$70 million for Private Sector Agribusiness development
$20 million for Financial Markets Development and Strengthening
$456.4 million for CERPs
$1 billion for PRT’s according to Senate Appropriations Summary of the bill
Also, a few people have written in asking why EPIC supports the supplemental, as much of the funding is appropriated for the military surge. Some have suggested that only once troops have withdrawn from Iraq, should we appropriate funds for reconstruction and aid. The point is that the people of Iraq cannot wait through the months of political debate on the Hill that would be needed to reverse current Administration policy. We have a humanitarian emergency on our hands. Tens of thousands of Iraqis are fleeing their homes every month while those who can’t leave are suffering from an inadequate public health system, 60% unemployment rate and a security situation that fails to guarantee them even a tomorrow.
Congress will pass a supplemental spending bill in some form or another to support the troops that are already there. This much is clear. The number of votes needed to oppose the bill simply aren’t there. Whether they add restrictions, timelines, etc is not our primary concern, though we are certainly against further fighting in Iraq. This Administration has been wrong to seek a military solution to the problems of Iraq. We have repeatedly stated this, and gone even further by suggesting effective solutions to the crisis, namely relief and development. Our main concern is the people of Iraq who are suffering greatly due to this Administration’s short-sighted policies and failed initiatives. All we are asking is that Congress appropriates a small percentage of the supplemental funds to help the people of Iraq. I’m looking through the House version now and it includes $25 million for spinach producers (p. 291) and $60 million for salmon fisheries (p. 216) among other expenditures extraneous to Iraq. Surely we can include something for millions of Iraqis.
>There are so many emotions that run through a father’s mind when preparing for the birth of his first child: excitement, pride, happiness, anticipation, and sometimes fear. Saleem Amer experienced this roller coaster of emotions in the days leading up to the birth of his first son, but in a way that most people could never imagine. Amer, a member of NPR’s Iraqi staff, tells his story of getting ready to be a father in a time of war and the obsticles that he and his family faced.
Saleem began by looking for a doctor for his wife, but this was not an easy task since there are only two respectable maternity wards in Baghdad. The first doctor that he was recommended to had been killed a month earlier, the second had fled the country, and the third was Sunni and would not accept Saleem and his wife because they are Shia. When he finally found a doctor, he had to make a decision on the clinic where his wife would deliver the baby. He decided on the riskier option of taking her to the Sunni clinic because it was closer to their house and her doctor was practicing there.
A nurse at the clinic asked Saleem who would be accompanying his wife during the delivery, since the clinic didn’t have enough staff to help during the birth. Saleem informed her that he and his brother, along with his mother and mother-in-law would all be there during the delivery. The nurse warned Saleem that it would be extremely dangerous for he and his brother to stay because Sunni militias came in at night and kidnapped Shia men. Saleem didn’t know what he was going to do; should he stay for the birth of his son and risk being killed, or leave his wife and his new baby?
The day his wife went into labor, they brought clean water, antibiotics and painkillers, flashlights, blankets, and a small electric heater to the clinic. The clinic turned off its generator at midnight and did not have any clean water. Overcoming all of these complications, his wife delivered a healthy, ten pound baby boy with black hair and blue eyes named Yousef. Saleem explained that he wanted to leave before dusk, but changed his mind and decided to take the risk when he saw his wife and son being wheeled into the room. They bribed the nurse to erase their names off the registry and in case anyone came during the night, he and his brother would cover themselves with blankets and hide. The morning finally came and everyone was safe and asleep. Saleem explained that, “The most fearful night of my life was over; the night my son was born.”
So many emotions ran through Saleem Amer when he was finally able to have a moment of peace and look at his son:
Why did I bring a baby into such a violent war? Could I ensure that my son would have a peaceful life; not a rich or unique life, just a peaceful life?
The waves of happiness of a father looking into his son’s eyes were overcome by feelings of uncertainty, fear, and regret.
The humanitarian price of war is often missing in the political, economic, and military dialogue surrounding the conflict. The everyday reality of innocent Iraqis is very similar to that of Saleem and his family. The hope for peace and security is like a distant dream to many, and is often overshadowed by fear, violence, and uncertainty. Saleem explains that, “A day in Iraq at war is like a year in peacetime.” Go here to hear all the details in Saleem’s own words.
Our friends at Refugees International have just released a report based on a two-week assessment mission in the Kurdish areas of N. Iraq undertaken by RI Advocate Kristele Younes and journalist Nir Rosen. Of late much of the focus on the displacement crisis has centered on the refugee crisis. So while we often hear of the difficulties Iraqis have finding refuge in neighboring countries, no one has really discussed difficulties internally displaced Iraqis have.
As one of the most secure areas in Iraq (due mostly to the fact that it is protected by its own security forces) Kurdistan is a very popular destination for internal refugees; but getting there is not easy. They must first pass through multiple security checkpoints and then provide the name of a guarantor, a “Kurdish resident of one of the the three Northern Governorates, who can attest to the morality and identity of the displaced.” Even so, single Arab men are rarely allowed in, and Muslim Arabs in general have a much harder time getting in than Christians or Kurds.
The problems, however, do not stop once allowed through. Though the security situation is certainly more stable in the Kurdish north, internal refugees face dire economic prospects. Most are unable to find work and are thus unable to keep up with the high cost of living in this region. A Sunni Arab woman from Baghdad told Refugees International that she and her husband had decided to return to Baghdad with their two children despite the threats they had received for being Sunni. “My husband can’t find work here, and the rent is too expensive. Everything is cheaper in Baghdad. God will protect us, I hope.” This is just incredible.
While the situation of Iraq’s IDP’s continues to deteriorate, no Iraqi, U.S. or U.N. institution has to actually mount an effective response. Why? Because they don’t even really acknowledge it as an issue. The report goes on to say, “In fact, the Iraqi Government’s refusal to declare a humanitarian crisis is leading donors to question whether their funds are really needed to assist the displaced.” The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR ), which has primary responsibility for the displaced people in the Kurdish and southern regions only has about $9 million to spend on the this year. RI quotes a UNHCR official as saying, “If we were looking at responding to real needs, then even $150 million would not be enough.”
We have made somesmallsteps in dealing with the refugee problem, but have yet to even begin to address the IDP crisis. Hopefully this will report will motivate the U.S., U.N. and even Iraqi institutions to take the problem seriously. —- UPDATE: You can hear Kristele Younes, one of the authors of the report, discussing the IDP crisis on NPR’s Morning Edition.
>Things have been very busy around the office here at EPIC lately. We’ve been working to set up an action site to let our members tell Congress about the extent of the humanitarian crisis in and around Iraq. So it was a nice change of pace to head over to Georgetown University’s Iraq Remembrance Week to see a panel event titled “Iraq: The Human Cost of War” yesterday morning.
Latest estimates put the total number of IPDs and refugees at 3.9 million, with 700,000-800,000 people displaced in the last year. These individuals, which include not only Iraqi nationals but also 45,000 non-Iraqis, are fleeing to refugee camps in soccer stadiums and even cemeteries. The 3.9-million figure does not factor in the hundreds of thousand of additional Iraqis in “pre-displacement”–a state in which they are afraid to go to work and/or afraid to sleep in their own homes at night.
The Middle East has not seen such a large scale displacement crisis since 1948.
With half the displaced population living on less than 1$US a day, the State Department is seeking more funds to add to the efforts of UNHCR and other organizations helping to mitigate the humanitarian crisis. Notably, Larry Bartlett mentioned that the US obligations to the crisis are not solely financial. He also explained that, we must continue to honor America’s diplomatic obligations to displaced Iraqis by working with neighboring states to create safe spaces for those forced from their homes. Roberta Cohen suggested that they US needs to increase aid to Jordan and Syria as their economies and infrastructure strain under the influx of refugees. Currently in Jordan, Iraqi refugees are not issued work permits, and this has brought about a rise in child labor and prostitution among the refugees.
The question of resettlement also came up. Larry Bartlett and his colleagues at the State Department must be given credit for permitting the US resettlement of 7,000 Iraqis. UNHCR is hoping to increase this number significantly, as well as increasing resettlement rates in other countries. Some have pointed to the expeditious resettlement of 20,000 Iraqis in the US following a failed uprising against Saddam Hussein in the early 1990′s as a possible model for the current situation. Yet this is complicated by the “material support bars” of the PATRIOT and Real ID Acts that exclude anyone who has given money to armed groups from entry to the United States. Adam Shapiro pointed out that in Iraq, many families are forced to pay armed groups just to recover the bodies of their dead loved ones. Thus, few in Iraq have been lucky enough to not be forced to take actions that the US brands as “terrorism.” Larry Bartlett said that he and his colleagues at State will “work strenuously to make sure this hurdle is overcome.”
Under a civil-war containment scenario (in which US troops redeploy to seal off Iraq’s borders to prevent the spread of violence to neighboring states), dubbed “Plan B,” camps would spring up inside Iraq’s borders for those fleeing civil war, yet unable to escape Iraq due to the border closures. These camps would have to be protected by soldiers, and this poses several problems. First, according to Larry Bartlett, both the soldiers and the displaced persons at the camps would become easy targets for those seeking to propagate the violence in Iraq. The second problem, noted Roberta Cohen, is that the camps would become de facto “detention centers” for displaced persons. By closing off Iraq’s borders, “Plan B” would both violate Iraqi rights to freedom of movement and deny Iraqis the chance to seek asylum in neighboring states. Lastly, Wendy Young pointed to the region’s problematic and painful history of refugee camps, as well as the sense of dependency and disenfranchisement that these camps generate.
Finally, Wendy Young mentioned an upcoming UNHCR-hosted conference that will address the international community’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Invitations to this ministerial-level conference have been extended to 192 member states as well as over 60 NGOs. With Refugees International’s new report that says Iraqis forced from their homes are not receiving adequate humanitarian assistance, and the NYT reporting this morning that the war has resulted in “the world’s fastest-growing populations of refugees and internally displaced peoples,” it is time for the Bush Administration to act. We here at EPIC are not alone in hoping that Secretary Rice will make all efforts to attend the UNHCR meeting in April and, as Roberta Cohen put it, “acknowledge the United States’ specific responsibility for this humanitarian crisis.”
Congress needs to act as well. And you can help to make that happen by going here.