April and May were the two deadliest months in Iraq since 2008, and that escalation has continued into June. On Monday, a wave of car-bombs across central and northern Iraq claimed at least 57 lives, prompting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to issue a statement expressing concern over “the escalating political tensions and the appalling upsurge of violence” and urging “all parties to redouble their efforts to support reconciliation and end sectarian violence.”
Here at EPIC, we are also alarmed by reports of a re-mobilization of militias and a return of false checkpoints, a tactic used during the 2006-2007 bloodbath. On June 1, the Institute for the Study of War reported “the evidence is clear; Shi’a militants have mobilized in Baghdad and are conducting executions of civilians.”
Given such developments, it is easy to understand why millions of Iraqis remain displaced. Today we take a closer side-by-side look at the recent escalation of violence and current humanitarian conditions in Iraq through infographics. What we found was a grim outlook that casts a dark shadow over Iraq’s future. While not all of the statistics are entirely pessimistic, they still represent an Iraq that is struggling to provide adequate services and security for its people, and where armed groups and rival political parties claim too much power over the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis.
One of the most striking aspects of the Humanitarian Snapshot infographic is the number of displaced Iraqis. Roughly 10% of Iraqis are displaced—either as internally displaced persons (IDPs) or as refugees who have fled Iraq—making them the second largest displaced population in the region. Sadly, displacement is not a new phenomenon for many Iraqis. Millions of Iraqis were displaced during the 1980s and early 1990s by violent conflict during the Iran-Iraq War and Saddam Hussein’s brutal repression of the 1991 popular uprising. However, the largest displacement of Iraqis occurred during Iraq’s 2006-2008 civil war when sectarian militias seized control of large parts of Baghdad. While the withdrawal of US troops in 2011 has led many Americans to believe that the Iraq War is over, Iraq continues to struggle. The ongoing internal violence in Iraq and humanitarian needs of millions of displaced and vulnerable Iraqis remains a relevant, and indeed growing issue with the continuation of the Syrian civil war. Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled to Syria as refugees during the Iraq war, and as Syria becomes increasingly unstable, they have been forced to return to Iraq, even if it is not to their home. This means that many Iraqi refugees are returning from Syria to become IDPs in Iraq. At the same time, an estimated 200,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Iraq, particularly in the northern Kurdistan Region, greatly exceeding the current capacity of refugee camps and swamping social service agencies in urban centers like Erbil.
The influence of the conflict in Syria affects Iraq well beyond the issue of displacement, as violence has spread across the border and as militants—including Iraqis—and arms transit through Iraq. The increasingly sectarian nature of Syria’s civil war is also intensifying political tensions and instability that have already been running high due to deteriorating relations between Iraq’s political opposition and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The statistics about the number of civilian deaths in April and May of this year have gained a lot of attention in the news in recent weeks. April was host to 712 civilian deaths, while May experienced 1,045. These numbers are staggering as they represent the highest rates of civilian deaths since 2008. It is less than half way through the year, and Iraq is already averaging 4.5 more deaths a day than it was in 2012. June is shaping up to be another deadly month, with over 50 people dead in a string of car bombings this week. While the rates of violence vary by region, the overall picture is very serious.
In the midst of this worsening cycle of violence and continuing displacement crisis, President Obama has avoided mentioning Iraq in his second term, and in his budget request for fiscal year 2014, he is proposing a precipitous 55% cut in US aid to Iraq, including a 70% to 95% reductions in US funding for Iraqi peacebuilding, human rights, and civil society. The infographics depict a nation and population that demand greater attention by diplomats and aid agencies. As US Secretary of State John Kerry recently put it, “Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow.”