Friday, May 21, 2010

Iraq's refugee crisis

The aftermath of New Labour's electoral defeat offers a useful vantage point to assess the concepts of "humanitarian intervention" and "ethical foreign policy" so closely associated with the Blair-Brown era. To this end, a panel discussion held earlier this week at Kings Place in London debated the motion: "British foreign policy that protects civilians from armed conflict is good for them -- and good for Britain".
[. . .]
The assumption, shared by both sides, that the invasion of Iraq was guided in some substantive way by liberal and humanitarian values, is a rather difficult one to square with the factual record. The invasion was preceded by a decade-long sanctions regime which resulted in the deaths of around a million Iraqis, half of them children under the age of five, according to Unicef. The invasion itself was an illegal war of aggression, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people according to the best estimates available, created around four million refugees or internally displaced persons, and devastated a society.
As the carnage in Iraq unfolded, western forces were far from passive observers, let alone a sort of "Oxfam with guns", to borrow Chandler's phrase. As one senior British officer remarked in 2004: "My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful".
This attitude was on full display in the brutal assaults on the cities of Fallujah and Najaf, and in the abuses exposed at Abu Ghraib. Yet Britain continued to support the US irrespective of these atrocities, and indeed was implicated in its own abuses during that period.

The above is from David Wearing's "The 'liberal interventionists' and 'realists' are both complacent" (Guardian). There was nothing humanitarian about the illegal war. Hawks on both sides wanted to pretend otherwise to have something to self-deceive with. You'd think, for example, Samantha Power's 'hair color' would be enough self-deception for one human being; however, you would be wrong. Very, very wrong.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre released [PDF format warning] "Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2009." Findings in the report include:

* This internally displaced population -- equivalent to one in ten Iraqis -- had been displaced in three phases. Since February 2006, around 1.5 million people had fled sectarian and generalised violence including military operations by multinational, Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian forces in northern Iraq. Approximately 190,000 people had been displaced by military operations and generalised violence from 2003 to 2005, and close to a million by the policies of the former government of Saddam Hussein, including the "arabisation" of Kurdish areas, destruction of marshlands in southern Iraq, and repression of political opposition.

* Iraq's many minority groups faced particular threats, including Christian Assyrians, Faeeli Kurds, Yazidis, Palestinian refugees, and also Sunni and Shia people where they were in the minority. Children and women faced recruitment by armed groups, sexual and gender-based violence, and labour exploitation. Despite the decline in violence, the UN and the humanitarian
community continued to report human rights abuses and violations against civilians by militias, criminal gangs, and security forces, with perpetrators generally avoiding prosecution.

* Over half of the world's internally displaced people (IDPs) were in five countries: Sudan, Colombia, Iraq, DRC and Somalia.

* Internally displaced women and children were particularly exposed to rape and sexual violence in many countries including Chad, Colombia, DRC, India, Iraq, Kenya, Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan.

* In Iraq, displaced women heading households on their own faced higher risks of sexual exploitation than women who were accompanied by men.

*In many countries, returns were not voluntary and IDPs' involvement in planning the process was limited. In countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Columbia, Iraq and Sudan, IDPs were encouraged or forced to return before it was safe or sustainable for them to do so.

* In Iraq, most displacement in 2009 was caused by the actions of militant groups targeting members of other communities.

* In Iraq, the number of returnees increased but remained a small percentage of the number displaced.

* In Iraq, despite the overall decline in violence, returnees and IDPs continued to face endemic violence and threats on the basis of their religious, sectarian or ethnic origins, or simply for being displaced or a returnee.

All starred statements above are direct quotes from the report. Iraq makes the list of countries with the most internally displaced people (Iraq comes in third with an estimated 2.76 million IDPs). That's the internally displaced. There are also the external refugees. Many have fled to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. RT News reports on refugees in Jordan noting:

For 13 months he has received not one penny from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees ­ the very organization set up to help people in his situation.
"I suffer in Jordan. The Jordanians don’t treat me properly because I am a Shia. I barely survive. Each month I go to the UN HCR offices, but they keep saying 'You need to wait, you need to be patient.' I'm supposed to get help from them, but they give me nothing," Atya says.
Like other Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Fares survives on illegal jobs which come his way sporadically – no more than two or three days a month.

Mona Alami (IPS) also recently reported on Iraqi refugees in Jordan:

"The number of Christian Iraqi refugees in Jordan has decreased dramatically from about 30,000 only a few years ago to some 10,000 to 15,000 today," says Rev. Father Raymond Moussalli.
Christians residing in Jordan belong mostly to the Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian and Protestant churches. "Most of us speak Chaldean, which is very similar to the original language of our Lord Jesus Christ," says Oussama, a 24-year-old Iraqi Christian.
Christians congregate daily at the basement of the small Chaldean Church in Webdeh hills, where it is headquartered. They come to exchange stories of their home country, pray in silence, or simply to find solace with others refugees who like them are forced to live in a foreign land. Many live around the area as well as in other older Amman quarters, such as Jabal Hussein or Markah.
"The international community has become indifferent to the plight of Christians still residing in Iraq, whose numbers are dwindling from nearly a million to less than 400,000 today," complains Brahim.

Monday on Australia's ABC Radio (link has video), the refugee crisis was discussed on Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly:

Fran Kelly: . . . Michael Otterman, a freelance journalist and human rights consultant. He is the author of a new book called Erasing Iraq: The Human Cost of Carnage. Michael, thanks very much for joining us again on Breakfast.

Michael Otterman: Thanks for having me in.

Fran Kelly: The premise of your book, Erasing Iraq, is the litany of wrongs that Iraqi people have suffered at the hands of foreigners. It's seven years since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there's still plenty of violence going on as we hear every day or every week at least. But there is now some political stability. They're have been elections recently -- although they're still being resolved. Is Iraq a better place than it was under Saddam Hussein in 2003?

Michael Otterman: Well you have to look at the wider costs. Things are more stable today certainly as they were right after the invasion. The rates of violence relative to the worst days of the post-invasion chaos are down but what my book is about is the human costs. The costs have been tremendous. As part of this book's research, I've spent time in Syria and Jordan speaking to Iraqi refugees and they were very quick to point out the trauma they've experienced -- obviously it endured under Saddam Hussein. And I include narratives of life under Saddam and torture that some people endured under Saddam. But they're -- in terms of US aggression in that country -- they pinpoint 1991, during the first Gulf War, and the UN sanctions and then, finally, 2003 and the post-invasion chaos as this real continuum of suffering. The costs have been tremendous. Over five million displaced. Millions killed. So it's really hard to compare apples to oranges -- what's better, what's worse? Iraqis I spoke to -- Look, some supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein but I didn't meet any Iraqi that supported this prolonged occupation.

Fran Kelly: Okay. Just the title itself, Erasing Iraq. What do you mean?

Michael Otterman: Well we talk about the concept of sociocide in the book and sociocide is a term which -- essentially it reflects the killing of people and displacement but also reflects the larger cost. And we argue that includes the destruction of society. And sociocide's an apt term to describe the level of destruction in Iraq. And-and is akin to erasing Iraq because not only do you have millions killed and millions displaced, but you have destruction of very basic and central elements of Iraqi life coming through, say, if you look at the religious and minorities in Iraq. We talk about the Mandaeans which is a religious group that have lived, well, for centuries in Iraq. They numbered about 50,000 strong before 2003 and after 2003 they've just been obliterated by Sunnia, Shia fundamentalists. Their numbers are about four or five thousand today, down from fifty thousand. And they've had this almost global diaspora. They've been killed, kidnapped within Iraq. So this is a religious group that's unique to -- or was unique to Iraq -- which has been completely obliterated in the post-invasion chaos. Sociocide, erasing Iraq, also refers to the destruction of cultural elements in the country, the destruction of shared artifacts. Things like the Baghdad museum which was sacked after the invasion. Over 9,000 artifacts are still lost and presumed destroyed. This reflects the wider costs of this war which the term sociocide describes.

Fran Kelly: I suppose no one really thinks any war has no costs. And here, sitting in the West, perhaps we think it's worth it, Saddam is gone, these people are now holding relatively free and fair elections, it seems to be moving forward. I think one statistic that I read in your book that I hadn't really focused on much was the displacements, the displaced people, the amount of refugee people living -- well, homeless in Iraq but outside of Iraq. It numbers in the millions, as you said,

Michael Otterman: Yeah, I mean, it's an incredible number. It's an incredible movement of people. It's the largest refugee crisis in the region since 1948 and the establishment of Israel. But it's almost an invisible crisis because, like I said, there's almost 2 million externally displaced refugees. Most of them live in Syria and Jordan. But unlike other refugee crises that come to mind, these people aren't living in tents. They live in the outskirts of Damascus and Amman in kind of the rougher neighborhoods and in ramshackle buildings. Interestingly, these are mostly middle-class Iraqis, many professionals and school teachers. These are actually the people that Iraq needs certainly right now to rebuild -- to rebuild its society. But they remain displaced and, despite relative drops in violence, they choose not to return because they don't see a country that (a) is stable and (b) that - that has water, power, basic sewage, the services --

Fran Kelly: So life is better in sort of some kind of refugee situation in Syria or Iran or Jordan than it is in Iraq?

Michael Otterman: That's right. I mean, there hasn't been massive returns. Actually, there's only been a trickle of returns.

TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Dan Balz (Washington Post), John Dickerson (Slate) Susan Milligan (Boston Globe) and Jeff Zeleny (New York Times). And Gwen's column this week is "When Washington Insiders Become Outsiders." Remember that the show podcasts in video and audio format -- and a number of people sign up for each (audio is thought to be so popular due to the fact that it downloads so much quicker). If you podcast the show, remember there is the Web Extra where Gwen and the guests weigh in on topics viewers e-mail about. And also remember that usually by Monday afternoon you can go to the show's website and stream it there (including Web Extra) as well as read the transcripts and more. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Cari Dominguez, Nicole Kurokawa, Leticia Velez-Hudson and Patricia Sosa on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And at the website each week, there's an extra just for the web from the previous week's show and this week it's Laura Bush's book where she states she pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage. For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:

Are They Safe?
Chemicals called phthalates found in soft plastic products we use everyday are so ubiquitous, that traces of them can be found in everybody. The government has banned some of them in children's toys for fear they may be harmful, but are they? Lesley Stahl investigates.

The SEED School
There's a unique school that's giving kids from an inner-city neighborhood that only graduates 33 percent of its high school students a shot at college they never had before. Byron Pitts reports on Seed School, the first urban, public boarding school.

Marty's Big Idea
Hear the story of the invention of the cell phone from the man whose team came up with it at Motorola. The inventor, Martin Cooper, is still at it, improving the gadget he came up with 37 years ago. Morley Safer reports.

60 Minutes, Sunday, May 23, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio. Today on The Diane Rehm Show (airs on most NPR stations and streams live online beginning at 10:00 am EST), Diane's guest host is joined the first hour (domestic news roundup) by Naftali Bendavid (Wall St. Journal), Shailagh Murray (Washington Post) and Ron Elving (NPR). For the second hour (international news roundup), the guests are Ann Gearan (AP), Tom Gjelten (NPR) and Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers).

And we'll close with this from Debra Sweet's "Obama Readies Troops: Protest Needed Now!" (World Can't Wait):

Saturday, May 22: President Obama speaks at West Point. Anti-war Protest 10:00 am Memorial Park in Highland Falls, NY. Rally and march to the West Point Gate. Call 866 973 4463
Help publish Crimes are Crimes - No Matter Who Does Them again, in another national publication.
Listen to former C.I.A. analyst Ray McGovern, advisor to War Criminals Watch, on the history of U.S. government assasination, and Obama's order to kill al-Awlaki.
ACLU Letter Urges President Obama To Reject Targeted Killings Outside Conflict Zones
May 13, the New York Times front page: U.S. Decision to Approve Killing of Cleric Causes Unease
This is exactly the moment are voices are needed! Please take a moment to circulate this statement, and ask your friends to sign it!
Cindy Sheehan's Peace of the Action announces a Sizzlin' Summer Protest in Washington DC July 4-17. Join in!
4th of July in Lafayette Park (North Side of White House) at 1pm to pass out Peace Literature to the people who flock to DC for the Nation's Birthday.
The Wars Drone On and On Monday, July 5th -- Friday, July 9th
Hands off our Kids! Monday, July 12 to Friday, July 16

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