Friday, December 29, 2006

NYT: "Crisis in Housing Adds to Miseries of Iraq Mayhem" (Michael Luo)

Along with its many other desperate problems, Iraq is in the midst of a housing crisis that is worsening by the day.
It began right after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, when many landlords took advantage of the removal of his economic controls and raised rents substantially, forcing out thousands of families who took shelter in abandoned government buildings and military bases. As the chaos in Iraq grew and the ranks of the jobless swelled, even more Iraqis migrated to squalid squatter encampments. Still others constructed crude shantytowns on empty plots where conditions were even worse.
Now, after more than 10 months of brutal sectarian reprisals, many more Iraqis have fled their neighborhoods, only to wind up often in places that are just as wretched in other ways. While 1.8 million Iraqis are living outside the country, 1.6 million more have been displaced within Iraq since the war began. Since February, about 50,000 per month have moved within the country.
Shelter is their most pressing need, aid organizations say. Some have been able to occupy homes left by members of the opposing sect or group; others have not been so fortunate. The longer the violence persists, the more Iraqis are running out of money and options.
Shatha Talib, 30, her husband and five children, are among about a thousand struggling Iraqi families that have taken up residence in the bombed-out remains of the former Iraqi Air Defense headquarters and air force club in the center of Baghdad. "Nobody should live in such a place," she said. "But we don’t have any other option."
With many families in such encampments or worse, and many others doubled or tripled up in friends' or relatives' homes, the deputy housing minister, Istabraq al-Shouk, puts the shortage at two million dwellings across Iraq.

The above is from Michael Luo's "Crisis in Housing Adds to Miseries of Iraq Mayhem" in this morning's New York Times. It's the article read -- in a week when it's been hard to say that about anything the paper of little record has offered -- but it's by Luo so that demands a qualifier: Read it print or use the link, but do not attempt to hunt it down at the website later today.

For those confused, in one of the more shameful events of 2006 at the paper, when Luo wrote a very straightforward, very strong news article, the reward for that from New York (after complaints came in -- and no, not readers complaints, the Times doesn't give a damn about the average reader) was to allow a New York based writer to rewrite the piece and water it down -- a piece about Iraq was rewritten by a writer who wasn't in Iraq, didn't know what he was writing about, and Luo's original piece 'disappeared' from the website's "Middle East" listing. (See the snapshot for October 17th.)

So read it in print or use the link, but don't be surprised, if mid-day, you have trouble finding it but can find some watered down version of it by John O'Neil at the website.

The removal of the economic controls didn't just happen, that was part of the US government's attempts to 'shock the system' that Naomi Klein covered in "Baghdad Year Zero" (Harper's magazine). The attacks on the subsidy programs were also a part of that as the US government tried to destabilize the economic system.

The encampments are noted and they include people who once resided in, among other places, Falluja which was slaughtered in November of 2004 and has never been made hospitable again -- though there are six check points, with biometric devices, all around the city. Depleted uranium and white phosphorus were among the weapons used on the city. In the immediate aftermath, though Dexy Filkins couldn't tell readers this, corpses were left in the streets and dogs fed on them. The majority of the people who once lived in the city, those lucky enough to depart before the slaughter (remember that young boys attempting to leave as the slaughter was about to begin were forced back into the city by US forces) have been in encampments ever since. Giuliana Sgrena (Italian journalist) was visiting one such encampment when she was kidnapped. From her book Friendly Fire [pp. 34-35]:

Picture a city of more than 250,000 residents at the gates of Baghdad, on the road to Jordan. This position allowed the Fallujans to develop thriving construction and commercial transportation industries. Thanks to these floursing activities, the city was expanding, with neighborhoods full of new homes and wide, dusty boulevards. This city was almost razed to the ground in the attack of November 2004. According to official Iraqi government sources, 36,955 houses were hit, 3,600 demolished, 2,000 burned, 21,000 occupied. As for the stores and business: 1,800 were completely destroyed, 8,400 were damaged, 250 factories were burned. In addition to these damages, according to Doctor Hafid al Dulaimi, head of the Commission for Compensation of Falluja Citizens, 60 daycare centers and schools were hit and 65 mosques and religious sites were damaged. As if this were not enough, the bombing created environmental problems: among other effects, the city's drinking water was contaminated by sewage. Damages calculated by another member of the commission amount to $600 million but then premier Iyad Allawi recognized only 20 percent, and as of June of last year [2005], had only allocated funds to cover 10 percent. According to Mohammed Hadeed, a Falluja doctor, at least 31,000 city residents are still waiting to be compensated.

Slaughter in November 2004, 2 years and one month later and still residents live in encampments (think tents -- think of it as tent city). 'Democracy' at the end of a gun barrel or 'liberation' via a bomb. Dexy's rah-rah reporting shouldn't have won an award not just because it was laughable and had no relation to reality, but also because it missed capturing this moment for what it was, the end of all hopes for winning hearts and minds. The innocents shot at check points, the nightime house raids, all the daily humiliations would continue to feed into the anger of the slaughter of Falluja.

A similar plan was intended for Ramadi in Al-Anbar province this summer but the so-called crackdown in the capital necessitated pulling US forces in June and after. Which is why the escalation promises more troops not only in Baghdad but also in Ramadi -- what can't be 'won' will be destroyed and that's the reality of the illegal war.

On that point, we'll note David S. Cloud and Jeff Zeleny's "Bush Considers Up to 20,000 More Troops for Iraq:"

The Bush administration is considering an increase in troop levels in Iraq of 17,000 to 20,000, which would be accomplished in part by delaying the departure of two Marine regiments now deployed in Anbar Province, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
The option was among those discussed in Crawford, Tex., on Thursday as President Bush met there with his national security team, and it has emerged as a likely course as he considers a strategy shift in Iraq, the officials said.
Most of the additional troops would probably be employed in and around Baghdad, the officials said.
With the continuing high levels of violence there, senior officials increasingly say additional American forces will be needed as soon as possible to clear neighborhoods and to conduct other combat operations to regain control of the capital, rather than primarily to train Iraqi forces.

The e-mail address for this site is