Thursday, March 29, 2007

Signing Off

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.


3D Security Strategy and US Iraq Policy

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.

And They Suffer in the South Too...

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 International report 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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Good Reading: Winning the War, Losing the Peace

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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Iraqi Volunteers, Iraqi Refugees: What is America's Obligation?"

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.

The Senate Supplemental- Fact Sheet and Why EPIC Did Not Oppose It All Together

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.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Joy and Sorrow of Becoming a Baghdad Parent

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.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Supplemental on the Hill

The House just passed its version of the Supplemental. Total came out to $124 billion- about $20 billion more than was asked for by President Bush. The Washington Post explains:
"[The bill] grants $25 million to spinach farmers in California. The legislation would also appropriate $75 million for peanut storage in Georgia and $15 million to protect Louisiana rice fields from saltwater. More substantially, there is $120 million for shrimp and menhaden fishermen, $250 million for milk subsidies, $500 million for wildfire suppression and $1.3 billion to build levees in New Orleans.

“…The legislation pays more heed to a handful of peanut farmers than to the 24 million Iraqis who are living through a maelstrom initiated by the United States, the outcome of which could shape the future of the Middle East for decades.”
Beyond providing emergency spending, the bill also sets binding benchmarks for progress in Iraq, establishes tough readiness standards for deploying U.S. troops abroad and requires the withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2008.

Yesterday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved, by a voice vote, a version of the FY2007 Supplemental that totals $121.664. The legislation also calls on the President to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 120 days of its enactment, though un
like the House version it is not a firm requirement. The Senate version goes further than the House version in supporting development in Iraq (for example it fully funds the CAP program); however, there is still falls millions of dollars short of what is needed to effectively help the people of Iraq.

On that note, consider calling your Senator and letting him know just that. EPIC has set up a little action center with talking points, fact sheets and every thing else you might need to call your Senator in support of increased funding for humanitarian aid and economic development. Feel free to add this nifty banner I made to your blog, website, or wherever else if you support relief and development in Iraq.

The Internal Refugees

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 some small steps 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.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Iraq: The Human Cost of War

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.

In the course of their presentations and the subsequent Q & A session, panelists Roberta Cohen of Brookings, Wendy Young of UNHCR, documentarian Adam Shapiro, and Larry Bartlett of the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration did not disappoint. There was some talk of posting a transcript of the event to Georgetown's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies Program website, but until that gets posted, here is an overview of the information covered:

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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tell Your Senators: Iraqis need Aid, not War

Regardless of when U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, the U.S. must do more to pursue peace through other means and help the Iraqi people.

Earlier this year, 1,000s of friends of EPIC and our partner, Refugees International, urged President Bush to do more to help Iraqi refugees and to support international relief efforts. After thousands of emails were sent to President Bush, the U.S. announced an $18 million contribution to the UN Refugee Agency. Although it falls far short of what’s needed, it is a step in the right direction and it will save lives.

Concerned citizens like you have an opportunity to help do it again, but on a much larger scale. But to explain how, here's a quick update on what's happening in Congress.

Within hours, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a $124 billion emergency spending bill for FY 2007. Marked up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic leaders, the House spending bill would establish strict readiness standards for deploying combat forces and set a firm deadline of Aug. 31, 2008 to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. While House Dems add critically needed funding for military and veterans healthcare and plus up funding for critical humanitarian accounts, the House legislation falls $250 million short of what’s needed to help displaced Iraqis. Pelosi's bill also fails to provide the level of economic assistance recommended by the Iraq Study Group to help stabilize Iraq by creating jobs for millions of unemployed Iraqis.

Gen. David Petraeus and other top U.S. commanders have repeatedly said the Iraq conflict does not have a military solution. What’s most needed is progress through diplomacy and in the Iraqi economic and political arenas.

Readers like you can help EPIC deliver that message to the Senate as the Senate Appropriations Committee prepares to consider the same spending bill. Call your Senators today.

This month, more than 40 national groups joined EPIC in urging Congress to support a surge in relief and development aid to Iraq. Today I need you to add your voice. Urge your Senators to help build peace in Iraq by supporting life-saving relief and sustainable development that benefits all Iraqis.

Concerned citizens like you helped push the President to take a small step towards helping the people of Iraq; now its time to get Congress to go much further.

NEWS FLASH: I just received word that our friend, Kristele Younes with Refugees International, has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Iraq and the region to learn more about the plight of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. You can see her tonight on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams (check your local listings) and tomorrow on NPR's Morning Edition (during the first broadcast at 6 am on the East Coast, her segment will come on around 6:40 am EST).

The Sunni/Shia Divide

I received an e-mail from a senior polling analyst for the BBC who analyzed the poll I discussed yesterday, and broke it down according to Sunni/Shia responses.

Here are some of the more interesting results:
  • 93% of Sunni Arabs describe their life today as quite or very bad, compared to 47% of Shia (Q1);
  • 71% of Sunni Arabs believe their children will have a worse life than them, compared to 18% of Shia (Q5);
  • 85% of Sunnis think things in Iraq are somewhat or much worse than Spring 2003, compared to 32% of Shia (Q7).
  • 93% of Sunnis believe the security situation in their village/neighbourhood is quite or very bad, compared to 38% of Shias (q11);
  • 96% of Sunnis say the availability of jobs in their village/neighbourhood is quite or very bad, compared to 70% of Shia (Q11);
  • 93% of Sunni say their family's protection from crime in their village/neighbourhood is quite or very bad, compared to 50% of Shia (Q11);
  • 97% of Sunnis favour a unified Iraq with a central government in Baghdad in the favour, compared to 41% of Shia's (Q14);
  • Shia's are split between one unified Iraq with a central government in Baghdad in the future (41%), compared to 40% who favour a group of regional states with their own regional governments and a federal government in Baghdad and 19% who favour a country divided into three separate independent states (Q14);
  • 94% of Sunnis believe the national government has done quite or a very bad job, compared to 68% of Shia who say it has done a quite or very good job (Q20);
  • 96% of Sunnis disprove of the way the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is handling his job, compared to 67% of Shias who approve (Q21);
  • 88% of Sunnis say they consider the US government to control things in Iraq, while 50% of Shia believe the Iraqi government is in control (Q23);
  • 97% of Sunni oppose the presence of coalition forces in the Iraq compared to 83% of Shia (Q25);
  • 97% of Sunnis feel not very safe or not safe at all in their neighborhoods, compared to 71% of Shia (Q33);

Monday, March 19, 2007

Two New Surveys, Two Different Results

Two new opinion polls conducted in the last month were released today. One conducted by the BBC and ABC found the Iraqi people to be quite pessimistic.

Of the 2000 Iraqis questioned:
40% of those polled said things were good in their lives (compared to 71% two years ago)

58% overall said they wanted Iraq to remain a unified country

18% said they had confidence in US and coalition troops

35% said foreign troops should leave Iraq now

63% said they should go only after security has improved

A BBC analysis of this poll can be found here

The Sunday Times carries a poll which suggests that a majority of Iraqis think life is getting better.

Of the 5000 Iraqis surveyed:
27% think there is a civil war in Iraq

49% of those questioned preferred life under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, to living under Saddam

64% of Iraqis still want to see a united Iraq under a central national government

35% said a family member had left the country.

26% of Iraqis have had a family member murdered

It really speaks volumes that though 1 in 4 Iraqis have had a family member murdered and 1 in 3 have had a family member leave the country presumably due to the violence, nearly 50% still think life is better now than it was under Saddam. Do note that the BBC finds that Iraqis are becoming increasingly pessimistic. Hard to determine why there is such a discrepancy, but you should note that the Times poll did have a much larger sample size (5000 compared to 2000).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Pentagon Report

The quarterly Pentagon report "Measuring Stability and Progress in Iraq" was released on Wednesday. Some notes:

80 percent of the attacks from November through January were concentrated in four provinces; Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala and Salah ad Din

The total number of attacks on and casualties suffered by coalition forces, the (Iraqi security forces) and Iraqi civilians for the October through December (2006) reporting period were the highest for any three-month period since 2003

Coalition forces attract the majority of attacks, but Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians suffer most of the casualties.

Iran and Syria are contributing factor to instability

In Baghdad, Diyala and Balad, the violence is centered on sectarian divisions and competition for resources. Crime also enters the violence equation in Baghdad.

Some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a ‘civil war'

16 percent of the city's residents say that their current income meets their basic needs

Inflation in 2006 averaged 50 percent

"The GOI must, with Coalition and international help, create an effective strategy to provide jobs."

more coming

Examining the Troop Surge

Yesterday the Heritage Foundation hosted a discussion on the way forward in Iraq. The panel consisted of Kenneth Pollack (Brookings Institution), Frederick Kagan (American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research), and Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies). The main subject of discussion was whether or not the troop surge would succeed in securing Iraq. Though their opinions differed on this matter, each speaker agreed, that either way, this surge is the last possible option for success in Iraq.

Kagan was the most enthusiastic about the success of the surge. He considered the cooperation of the Maliki government and news that insurgent groups have gone underground as signs that the surge is already working in some parts of the country. Pollack used the later example, instead, to highlight the uncertainty of the outcome of the surge. He explained that it's too soon to know if insurgent groups will wait out the surge, or if they will loose strength and diminish.

Pollack went on to argue that it is difficult to determine whether or not it is too late in the conflict for the surge to work, explaining that we should have adopted this strategy much earlier. Kagan disagreed and explained that the Maliki government and the Iraqi army were not capable for this type of surge in 2004 and 2005, but that they are now. Cordesman, on the other hand, believes that the government, the army, and the police are still not capable enough to handle the military surge.

There were three themes that all of the speakers agreed on: the need for bolstering the civilian side of the surge, the importance of the political, economic, and social aspects of a civilian follow through, and the responsibility the U.S. has to not abandon Iraq regardless of the outcome of the surge. Pollack explained that:

"The replacement of Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, as well as the succession of Lt. General David Petraeus to the command of all Coalition forces in Iraq does offer some hope...However, as is frequently intoned but rarely acted upon, the military cannot possibly win the struggle for Iraq by itself. Even if Gates and Petraeus deliver a brilliant performance (and they may well), without a commensurate civilian effort to deliver the political, economic, diplomatic, and social components, the plan will still fail."

Cordesman argued it would be irresponsible for the U.S. to walk out of Iraq without doing everything possible to secure the country, and prevent conflict from spilling over into neighboring countries. The panel agreed that it was not realistic, or responsible for lawmakers to urge for a withdrawal if success is the objective, from both a political and military standpoint. Cordesman closed by stating that "the price of success is 2015, not 2008, and that it is not a matter of containment, but constant damage control."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The IMF has extended its $700+ million for another 6 months Mr. Takatoshi Kato, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, stated:
"Iraq is entering a crucial period in its economic recovery. Despite very difficult political and security circumstances, the Iraqi authorities have taken important measures to keep their economic program on track...Corruption and violence need to be brought under control to unlock Iraq's oil wealth. More forceful actions are needed, especially in the area of smuggling."
Radar Online has an interview with a former linguist who worked in Iraq. "The [linguists] are looked down on in the army as prima donnas who need a slap-down. They don't see it as a tool. Patriot missiles are seen as a tool"

and the NY Times has a story on how difficult it is for Iraqis to find refuge in the U.S.:
"For days, he trekked from Iraq to Turkey and from Turkey to Greece. He slipped through remote rural villages and crossed a river’s rushing waters to escape the violence that had left his cousin dead and his father in hiding.

Finally, after paying smugglers to get him on flights to Spain, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico, he joined the crush of Spanish-speaking migrants on a bus ride to America’s doorstep."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Last week, in his first press conference since the "surge" began, Gen. Petraeus warned that (1) it’s still too early to tell whether the military surge is working, and (2) regardless how successful the U.S. military may be, the military’s role will always be limited in what it can achieve – i.e. there has to be more progress in the Iraqi economic and political arenas and at best, current U.S. military forces can only buy Iraq more time, they are not the solution.

EPIC has heard from returning soldiers over and over again that the ongoing failure to create jobs is a major contributing factor to violence, including attacks against U.S. forces. According to a recent classified study conducted by the U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Warfare Analysis Center, improving the quality of life of Iraqi citizens reduces the level of violence in Baghdad. Citing military sources, the New York Times reports: “…the study found that a 2% increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30% decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17% decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence.”

Although an economic surge may require a modest increase in U.S. spending this year and the next, it will save the U.S. billions of dollars over the longer term by effectively reducing conflict which will in turn reduce Iraq’s dependence on U.S. combat forces. For an estimated $100 million, we can support the reactivation of most of Iraq’s 193 state-owned factories and put more than 150,000 Iraqis back to work. Imagine what that can do for the quality of life in communities that largely depend on those factories for their livelihood, and how that in turn can reduce conflict and save American lives.
Tackling soaring unemployment and stimulating local economies can do far more to stem violence than military operations and at a fraction of the cost.

This past weekend, President Bush sent a letter redirecting $3.2 billion in funds in support of U.S. troops in Iraq. While a considerable portion of these funds are for the military, Bush did include $100 million for restarting state-owned factories that will employ Iraqis. This is a huge step.
Once a factory is back up and running, creating jobs and benefiting the community, the need for continued U.S. military involvement and protection diminishes. Why? Because it shifts the community against anyone who might bomb the factory or otherwise take away the jobs and income that their community needs. In short, the community becomes less likely to cooperate with illegal armed groups and more likely to cooperate with local authorities working to secure the area. And community members who directly benefit from the factory’s reopening are more likely to even take things a step further by voluntarily participating in the protection of the factory and community.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mohammed Hayawi

While we know the names of each and every U.S. soldier who has died in Iraq, the names of killed Iraqi civilians are rarely recorded. Some organizations such as try to put a number on the tragedy, but rarely are they able to put a face on it.

It is with this in mind that I would like to point you to this article by Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post. Shadid is one of those journalists who dares to venture outside the Green Zone to capture the realities of everyday life in Iraq. Today he writes of Mohammed Hayawi, an Iraqi bookseller whose life ended far too soon:
After the invasion and the government's fall, Hayawi described himself much as other Iraqis did in that first uncertain year: as neither for Saddam nor happy with the Americans. He was angry, of course -- at the chaos, the insecurity, the lack of electricity.

"The American promises to Iraq are like trying to hold water in your hand," he told me in one conversation. "It spills through your fingers."

But he was never strident; he was filled with a thoughtfulness and reflection that survival in Iraq rarely permits these days.

Hayawi resented the occupation but voted in the elections the United States backed. He was a devout Muslim, but feared the rise of religion in politics. In his bookstore, once-banned titles by Shiite clerics, imported from Iran, vied with books by radical Sunni clerics, among them Muhammad Abdel-Wahab, the 18th-century godfather of Saudi Arabia's brand of Islam. Profit may have inspired his eclectic mix, but Hayawi also seemed to be making a statement: Mutanabi Street, his Baghdad and his Iraq would respect their diversity.

Friday, March 09, 2007

$20 Billion More? Ok, but Still Ignores Needs of Iraqis

The Wall Street Journal reports on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's proposed new spending bill.

Here is the breakdown:

$4.0 billion defense spending, including $1 billion for military operations in Afghanistan
$3.1 billion relocation of U.S. troops from overseas bases being closed in Europe and Asia
$2.5 billion homeland security
$1.7 billion veteran's healthcare
$8.7 billion domestic spending including farm disaster aid, and Gulf Coast recovery

In all, she hopes to add $20 billion to the administration's $99.6 billion 2007 supplemental request. The bill also sets a timeline for withdrawal. From the press release:
To pressure Iraqi leaders to make the compromises necessary to end the chaos that has resulted from their lack of performance to date, the proposal establishes a timeline for ending U.S. participation in Iraq’s civil war.

By July 1st, 2007 the President must certify that Iraq is making meaningful and substantial progress in meeting political and military benchmarks including a militia disarmament program and a plan that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqi factions. If he does not certify - troops must begin immediate redeployment and U.S. troop involvement in the Iraq civil war must be completed by December 2007 (180 days).

By October 1st, the President must certify that Iraqis have achieved key benchmarks. If he does not make the second certification, troops must begin immediate redeployment to be completed by March of 2008 (180 days).

Even if he makes both certifications, the Administration must start redeploying the U.S. Military from Iraq by March 1, 2008, and complete the redeployment by August of 2008 (180 days).
The bill also prevents the President from initiating offensive military operations against Iran without the approval of the Congress.

I certainly can't fault Pelosi for what she has included in this bill: it is apparent to all that more attention needs to be paid to Afghanistan, U.S. veterans must be taken care of properly, and current U.S. soldiers should certainly receive all the proper equipment they need.

As the press release states, "This bill meets every possible obligation for our troops..." But what about the Iraqis? The misguided policies of the U.S. have been instrumental in creating the current crises in Iraq including a 60% unemployment rate, and a displaced population of 3.7 million. Pelosi suggests an addition of $20 billion to an already bloated war budget and could not think to include at least $428 million for economic and humanitarian assistance?

Hopefully Congress will heed the call of those 40 organizations and include these funds in the 2007 Supplemental. And while I am sure everyone would like the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Iraq, we should not set timelines that ignore political and economic progress in Iraq. Instead our withdrawal ought to be contingent on these two factors. In other words when we withdraw our troops from Iraq, it must be done responsibly.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Just 0.4% More Could Save Millions of Iraqis

Yesterday Emily mentioned that EPIC and 40 other NGOs including Amnesty International, Mercy Corps, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Iraq Foundation and Refugees International had sent a letter to Congress urging members to amend President Bush's $99.6 billion 2007 Supplemental to include more money for development projects and humanitarian crisis response.

The letter was initiated by the Iraq Peace and Development Working Group (IPDWG), a newly-formed NGO working group advocating policy improvements to reduce human suffering and conflict in Iraq.

One would think that a sum as large as $99.6 billion would adequately cover all facets of our involvement in Iraq, but an overwhelming majority of the request ($93.4 billion) is on behalf of the Department of Defense, once again demonstrating this administration's over-reliance on a military solution to the conflict in Iraq.

Bush has requested $5.99 billion of the remainder for the State Department. Of this sum, $2.3 billion is ear-marked for foreign assistance for Iraq. Secretary Rice broke this figure down further in her February 27th testimony to Congress. The aid-related numbers:

• $428 million for democracy programs to support greater engagement with political parties, civil society organizations and national political institutions such as parliament.
• $60 million for humanitarian programs to support the growing number of displaced people within Iraq who have fled areas due to sectarian violence.

Let's start with the last figure: $60 million to aid and resettle displaced Iraqis who have fled from the violence. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) approximately 3.7 million Iraqis, or 1 out of every 8, have been displaced by violence, with tens of thousands more fleeing every single month. While the figure is certainly a great improvement, it falls far short of what is needed to even begin to adequately address the displacement crisis. Several NGOs party to the letter who have operations on the ground in Iraq conducted a needs assessment and determined that at least $290 million would be needed to address the effects of the crisis.

With $290 million the U.S. will be able to:
assist refugee-hosting countries with strained social services
fund local NGO's to take care of basic needs of refugees
fulfill 50% of UNHCR's funding appeal and 20% of the International Committee for the Red Cross' appeal
resettle 20,000 Iraqis over FY07 and FY08
assist internally displaced people (IDP's) with housing, food, healthcare, etc
Likewise the $428 million for democracy building is an improvement, but as the letter notes the Community Action Program (CAP) is still not fully-funded, despite it being one of the few successfull programs in Iraq. In the supplemental the administration asked for $50 million for CAP, a 50% decrease from previous years. The NGO letter asks that Congress restore full funding to CAP by granting it an extra $50 million. In addition, the letter also asks for an extra $100 million to support Iraqi civil society, conflict resolution and peace-building strategies, and the advancement of human rights and rule of law. All together, the letter asks for $440 million to address this critical funding gap for relief and development projects.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately $30 billion has been spent to date on foreign aid and diplomatic operations in Iraq. Unfortunatly, as the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has found, much of this money has been wasted due to a lack of proper oversight. For more on this see these previous postings:

The CBO report notes that to date no funding has been provided to promote local economic development nor to assist local governance in 2007. I suppose just the fact that the supplemental includes funding for such projects is somewhat reassuring. However, it is clear to the 40 national organizations that signed the letter that more money, at least $440 million, is needed to ensure they can be effective.

That is an increase to the current supplemental of only 0.4%. Surely the futures and lives of millions of Iraqis are worth an extra 0.4%.

Humanitarians Assist Marginalized Groups in Iraq, Media Doesn't Report

When it comes to the media, there is a saying that goes "If it bleeds, it leads." Unfortunately, reporting on Iraq typically fits the bill all too easily.

While stories conveying the latest body count, roadside bomb and sectarian killing have their place, reporting that continuously harps on these topics does not represent the truth about Iraq or its people. In fact, it leaves out one key point: the message of hope.

Take for example, a recent BBC report about the Sabian Mandaeans of Iraq, who believe in Adam, Noah, and John the Baptist but not in Muhammad, and are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. The report says that Sabian Mandaeans find themselves in an increasingly threatened position as they become pariahs in a conflict in which even members of the same religion do not spare each other from terrible acts of violence.

A disturbing story indeed, filled with many disturbing facts. But more disturbing than the content itself is what the story leaves out: hope for a chance to improve the situation. While the story is factual, it is not accurate. And sadly, its one-sided approach perpetuates feelings of hopelessness and breeds public apathy. It temps you to think, "It's all so terrible that nothing can be done to make things better. Why should we even bother trying? The problem is simply too big, the facts simply too overwhelming."

With this in mind, here are two EPIC Ground Truth Project interviews that provide a new perspective on Iraq--or, as we like to think of it, 'the ground truth:'

Khaldoon Ali talks about the harsh realities facing the Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies) of Iraq that ultimately compelled him to found
Mercy Hands, an on-the-ground Iraqi aid organization:

"When Saddam’s regime fell, the Roma people became targets of violence and the new Iraqi government stripped them of their privileges. Today, the Roma are often forced to sell alcohol and prostitute themselves in order to survive.

"After I realized that no one was helping the Roma, I pleaded with many international humanitarian organizations to help. Unfortunately, this was in 2004, when many international NGOs started to leave Iraq. Eventually Première Urgence, the NGO I worked for, decided to reduce its mission, as well, but they encouraged me to establish a local NGO of my own."
Sean Garcia of Refugees International discusses the chances of congressional action that will help to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Iraq:
"We are in a very positive moment right now with the new Congress. We have gotten a very warm reception on Capitol Hill from the leadership and from congressmen and women interested in Iraq, and there’s clearly a willingness on the part of Congress to increase funding to address the situation. "

The humanitarians featured in these two interviews give us genuine hope for the future of Iraq and its people.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Letter to Congress: National Groups call for Economic Surge in Iraq

EPIC joined more than 30 national groups yesterday in sending a clear message to Members of Congress: "U.S. can and should do more to rebuild and stabilize Iraq through increased U.S. support for civil society, peacebuilding, humanitarian relief, and responsible economic development."

With Congressional appropriators preparing to "mark up" the President's $93 billion emergency supplemental request, the groups sent a letter to every elected representative, asking them to replenish critically short funds needed to save lives -- both American and Iraqi.

The letter was initiated by the Iraq Peace and Development Working Group (IPDWG), a newly-formed NGO working group advocating policy improvements to reduce human suffering and conflict in Iraq. The letter's recommendations reflect broad consensus among agencies involved in life-saving relief efforts in Iraq and the Gulf region. Among groups signed on to the letter are 20 faith-based organizations and 10 operational relief and development NGOs.

The additional funding that the letter recommends would represent only a fraction of the total supplemental, yet make an enormous difference in the lives of millions of people affected by the conflict. Restored U.S. funding would help millions of Iraqis displaced in and outside their country, compensate thousands of families harmed in the conflict, restore jobs for more than 150,000 Iraqis, and support ongoing USAID programs that have demonstrated a considerable measure of success in Iraq.

For the full text of the letter and an up-to-date list of signers, click here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Human rights commitment in Iraq?

The U.S. State Department's 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released today in a briefing with Secretary Rice, includes a new section that underscores the U.S. commitment to defending human rights defenders. This begs the question: What has the U.S. commitment to defending human rights looked like in Iraq?

Unfortunately, it has so far fallen short of what it ought to be. For example, funding for human rights documentation has been traditionally restricted to looking at past abuses under Saddam's regime.

The truth is that there are a lot of civil society organizations in Iraq, including human rights groups, that are doing important work despite the violence. While there are tremendous risks involved in working in particular areas of Iraq, there are still Iraqis on-the-ground taking those risks everyday. Our government needs to not only pay lip service to defending these incredible people, but strengthen its commitments with due funding and appropriate action.

More to come on this.

ISG: Economic Development and Humanitarian Aid Needed in Iraq

The congressionally-commissioned Iraq Study Group makes over half a dozen recommendations pointing out the need for humanitarian aid and economic development projects in Iraq.

The NYT reports on a study by the Joint Warfare Analysis Center of the Defense Department saying that "the study found that violence in Baghdad drops significantly when the quality of life improves for Iraqi citizens," and "that a 2 percent increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30 percent decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17 percent decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence."

The top U.S. general in Iraq says that there is "no military solution to the problems of Iraq," and that and "ultimate success in Iraq will be determined by actions taking in the Iraqi political and economic arenas."

In light of all this, EPIC has assembled a brief, easy-to read summary of all the Iraq Study Group recommendations pertaining to humanitarian aid and economic development. The summary is available here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Riots for $7.75

Sahar at Inside Iraq just posted an interesting blog recounting her experience at a Baghdad bank:
I go in, only to find people pushing and shoving one another; fighting, shouting and cursing each other. “This is not normal,” I said to myself.

I try to reach the employee with whom I have business, but my efforts are to no avail. One human current pushes me this way and another pulls me that. A proper riot!

...Riots in the bank for ID 10 000, $ 7.75.

And for $100; what would they be prepared to do?

For $500?

For $1000??
For the answer you need only read the front-pages. A carbomb here, an IED there- these are the fruits of a 60% unemployment rate and an incapable economic plan for Iraq. We spend billions on combating insurgents, when it would have taken just millions to keep them from picking up that gun in the first place. Zakaria of Newsweek recently wrote: "It would cost $100 million to restart all of [the state run enterprises] and employ more than 150,000 Iraqis—$100 million. That's as much money as the American military will spend in Iraq in the next 12 hours." As each Iraqi is generally responsible for on average ten of his family members, you are essentially providing relief for 1.5 million Iraqis. And this with just a tiny portion of the money being spent every month in Iraq- Imagine what could be done with more.

No Iraqi wants to die for the dollar, but then again no Iraqi can live in the current climate.
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