Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Death Toll Rises in Yazidi Blasts

Initial reports about the August 14 bombings in the northern Iraqi towns of Qataniyah and Adnaniyah indicated that anywhere between 60 (according to the US military) and 500 Iraqis (according to local authorities and health officials) had been killed. Sadly, the largest of these figures is being confirmed as each day passes, meaning over 500 have been killed along with another 1,500 wounded.

This devastating attack has far-reaching implications for minority populations all over Iraq. Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, wrote a somber op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday expressing concern for the safety of "Christians and non-Muslims in Iraq". Indeed, she goes so far as to say that the very existence of such minority populations is at risk:

"Sixty years ago, Iraq's flourishing Jewish population, a third of Baghdad, fled in the wake of coordinated bombings and violence against them. Today, a handful of Jews remain...

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argues that reducing violence will help all Iraqis, but non-Muslims may have been purged from Iraq by the time the dust settles. It could already be too late for the Mandeans, followers of John the Baptist who have roots in ancient Babylon. A spokesman of the sect told the commission that only 5,000 Mandeans remain."
Upon reading this article I decided to call Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaeans Associations Union, with whom I had advocated on behalf of Iraqi refugees on Capitol Hill this summer. As it turned out, it was Suhaib who quoted the 5,000 estimate, which "is probably an exaggeration, meaning there are at most only 5,000 left". According to Suhaib, if things continue to deteriorate in Iraq and minorities like the Mandaeans are expelled to various parts of the world, it could spell the end of the Mandaeans.

Religious and ethnic minorities require a cohesive community where they can prosper. As Nina Shea argues, "It is in America's national and moral interests to help Iraq's Christians and other non-Muslims. The most vulnerable must be given asylum. We must also help those determined to stay". The U.S. faces an opportunity to do what is responsible by creating communities for religious minorities here in the United States, by working with other host countries to provide a safe and secure home, and by protecting them in the region as a whole.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New UN Resolution Honors Memory of Peacebuilders Past

Back in August of 2003, I was far too busy finishing my final semester abroad in the United Kingdom to take particular note of an attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 23 UN workers including High Commissioner and Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Sure, I followed world news, as most students of International Relations do. But for me, this was just another sad headline. I had no idea, at the time, just how important it was.

For the international NGO community and anyone who had ever worked or been connected with the UN, the August 19th, 2003 UN Headquarters bombing was like September 11th or the assassination of JFK -- they can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened. It was perhaps even more critical for the Iraqi people.

Sergio Vieira de Mello"Sergio de Mello's death is catastrophic," wrote a young woman blogger in Iraq, known as Riverbend. "We are all a little bit dazed. He was, during these last few months, the best thing that seems to have happened to Iraq. In spite of the fact that the UN was futile in stopping the war, seeing someone like de Mello gave people some sort of weak hope. It gave you the feeling that, no, the Americans couldn't run amuck in Baghdad without the watchful of eye of the international community."

The top UN official in Iraq at the time,
Sergio Vieira de Mello was an eloquent gentleman committed to peace and respected for his role in coordinating UN efforts in nations from East Timor to Kosovo. Other senior officials killed that day included Chris Klein-Beekman, the UNICEF coordinator for Iraq, and Nadia Younes, de Mello’s Chief of Staff. This was not only a tragic loss of renowned diplomats and humanitarians, but also the single worst attack on the UN in the history of the organization.

At the time, the Bush administration was keen on getting the UN into Iraq as a fig leaf of legitimacy for the U.S. mission of regime change, but resisted the UN playing a greater role. Mr. de Mello was a key figure in expanding UN presence and responsibility, and the August 2003 bombing was a critical development for Iraqis who worried about
Paul Bremer and the U.S. role in Iraq. Subsequent to the bombing, the UN pulled all but essential personnel out of Iraq and dramatically scaled back its operations for months. To this day, the main office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is in Amman, Jordan, not Baghdad. It was a devastating setback for those who wanted the UN and international community to play a greater role in helping Iraqis rebuild and determine their own future.

Nevertheless, the UN continued to play a critical role. UN Commissioner Carlos Valenzuela's team oversaw Iraqi elections and provided technical assistance for the formation of the Iraqi Independent Electoral Committee (IIEC). The Four years later,
a new UNSC Resolution helps to honor the legacy of de Mello and his colleagues by building upon their work and goals. Approving a 12-month mandate extension for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the Security Council "expanded the world body’s political role in Iraq, aimed at bringing together the strife-torn country’s rival factions, gaining broader support from neighbouring countries, and tackling the deepening humanitarian crisis." Among other things, the measure authorized the head of UNAMI to "advise, support and assist" the Iraqi Government in advancing an "inclusive, national dialogue and political reconciliation," reviewing the Constitution, setting internal boundaries, and dealing with the millions of Iraqis who have fled their homes.

EPIC welcomes this expanded UN role, although we hope to see further details from the UN Security Council and the Secretary General's office. And we hope you all will join us in remembering Sergio de Mello, his colleagues, and all those who have died trying to build peace in Iraq.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Brutal Attack on Yazidi Civilians

Tuesday was an exceptionally grim day for Iraq. Trucks loaded with fuel detonated in Qataniyah and Adnaniyah, devastating infrastructure and killing hundreds. Estimates now range between 300-500 dead, with entire families wiped out in the coordinated attack. Newspaper outlets such as the Telegraph are calling it the deadliest attack since the 2003 invasion and "one of the deadliest global attacks" since 9-11.

Qataniyah and Adnaniyah lie in northern Iraq and are populated by the Yazidi, who ascribe to a pre-Islamic religion.

This attack, like many others, targeted civilians, but is distinguished by a number of things. First, the sheer scale of the attack and level of destruction sets it apart from others. Second, that it occured in the northern Kurdish region populated by a small religious minority shows the commitment of terrorist groups to attack "soft targets", even if it means going to the most remote areas of Iraq to do so.

While such attacks can dash hope that something can be done to protect innocent civilians in Iraq, there are opportunities for everyone, including concerned citizens like you and me, to make a difference.

NPR's Morning Edition interviewed Elias Kassem today, a Yazidi immigrant who resettled in the United States after the 1991 Gulf War. Today, he lives with his wife in Lincoln, Nebraska where, after learning they lost family in the attack, Lincolnians reached out to support and console them. "I was thinking of leaving Lincoln", Elias said, "But it's changed my view of how I look at Lincoln, especially the people. I'll probably never leave Lincoln."

I was proud to hear the story of this Yazidi who has been welcomed into the Lincoln community. It's a story that speaks to the American tradition. And minorities such as the Yazidi are exactly the sort of population that the "Crisis in Iraq Act" (S. 1651) and the "Resposibility to Iraqi Refugees Act" (H.R. 2265) aim to protect. We have the opportunity to continue our tradition of moral leadership by supporting these bills in the House and Senate and to provide protection for those who cannot protect themselves. It's our opportunity to support positive change for the people of Iraq.

[Image: The Chermera temple (meaning “40 Men” in the Yezidi dialect) on the highest peak on the Sinjar mountains in northern Iraq.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Press Focuses on Iraqi Refugees

This Sunday's Washington Post featured an editorial that called on the U.S. government to protect the 110,000 Iraqis who helped the U.S., coalition forces or the reconstruction effort.

The editors highlight the risks this group of Iraqis face: already, 257 translators have been killed. Even more have had to flee their homes, and all the while we have managed to resettle less than 200 Iraqis this fiscal year, which ends September 30.

From the article:

"The obstacles Iraqis face to be recommended by the UNHCR make these low resettlement rates all the more astonishing. Iraqis cannot apply for refugee status from within Iraq; they must first brave the dangers of crossing a border. If they make it, those fleeing violence and persecution may also find that because of a broad legal provision disqualifying refugees who have provided "material support" to terrorist organizations they can be denied resettlement in the United States if they have paid ransoms for kidnapped relatives. According to Human Rights First, in some cases involving kidnappings the UNHCR has decided not to refer even deserving applicants to the United States out of concern that the irrational "material support" provision will bar them from entry."

At EPIC, we have tried to bring focus to this group of Iraqis who are in particular danger with blogs and interviews with people like Kirk Johnson. We are happy to see press on the issue. However, we also believe that to properly address the crisis there must be a more comprehensive agenda. In other words, the U.S. must focus on the entire refugee and at-risk population, not just on those who helped us. The crisis has reached extraordinary numbers, and we must do our part to fund requests from NGOs and aid organizations and to provide bilateral assistance to the region.

The New York Times now maintains a page dedicated to the Iraqi refugee crisis, which you can access here. We are happy to see this coverage and we encourage the press to be aware that this crisis has no boundaries: as Sabrina Tavernise points out in last Friday's NY Times, even Iraq's privileged classes have depleted their resources and are now in desperate need of help. With a tradition of helping vulnerable refugee populations, including the resettlement of over 100,000 Vietnamese after the end of the conflict there, the U.S. must maintain its tradition by doing its part to alleviate the Iraq crisis.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Congress at Recess, EPIC at Work: Keep Supporting Iraqi Refugees

When EPIC first began its advocacy efforts back in June, The Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act (H.R. 2265) only had 14 cosponsors. As of 8/8/07, it has 57. But we're not done yet.

Congress is out of session now through the end of August, which means "recess" for members. But just because the bell has rung doesn't mean your Senators and Representatives are off the hook on helping Iraqi refugees. Here's how you can help make sure they do their homework to help solve the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and protection situation for 4.2 million innocent Iraqi civilians who have been displaced by violence.

STEP #1. If you have not already done so and your representative is not on the list below, send a letter through our action center.

STEP #2. Place a follow-up call. You can find your members' numbers on congress.org or through the House switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Ask for the legislative assistant handling the Iraq refugee crisis, and tell him or her that the time is NOW to cosponsor H.R. 2265 and thus protect and assist innocent Iraqi refugees. If you haven't received a letter from your member in response to your action in Step #1, be sure to ask why. And please email EPIC to let us know how your member's office responded -- the more info we have, the more effective our advocacy will be.

STEP #3. Schedule a visit with your representative. Most members are home for the month of August, and you can find their local contact info through congress.org. So give a call and set up a meeting to express your concern for Iraqi refugees, and again, be sure to let us know how it goes.

STEP #4. Tell a friend. Copy the text of this blog or forward one of your EPIC member communications. If you get just one other person to take action, you are doubling the strength of your own action, and adding impact to our message.

STEP #5. Support EPIC's advocacy work through a donation. Contributions from our members are what keeps EPIC hard at work even when Congress is at recess. Every dollar makes us that much more effective in our mission of building peace and protecting the innocent in Iraq.

Here is the list of cosponsors as of 8/8/07, organized by date of sign-on:

Rep Blumenauer, Earl [D-OR-3] - 5/10/2007
Rep Schakowsky, Janice D. [D-IL-9] - 5/10/2007
Rep Shays, Christopher [R-CT-4] - 5/10/2007
Rep McGovern, James P. [D-MA-3] - 5/16/2007
Rep Clarke, Yvette D. [D-NY-11] - 5/16/2007
Rep Velazquez, Nydia M. [D-NY-12] - 5/16/2007
Rep Berman, Howard L. [D-CA-28] - 5/21/2007
Rep Capps, Lois [D-CA-23] - 5/21/2007
Rep McCollum, Betty [D-MN-4] - 5/24/2007
Rep Baird, Brian [D-WA-3] - 6/5/2007
Rep Holt, Rush D. [D-NJ-12] - 6/5/2007
Rep Sestak, Joe [D-PA-7] – 6/7/2007
Rep Dingell, John D. [D-MI-15] - 6/11/2007
Rep Hirono, Mazie K. [D-HI-2] - 6/11/2007
Rep Woolsey, Lynn C. [D-CA-6] - 6/13/2007
Rep Moran, Jerry [D-KS-1] - 6/15/2007
Rep LaTourette, Steven C. [R-OH-14] - 6/15/2007
Rep Delahunt, William D. [D-MA-10] - 6/15/2007
Rep Baldwin, Tammy [D-WI-2] - 6/15/2007
Rep Ellison, Keith [D-MN-5] - 6/15/2007
Rep English, Phil [R-PA-3] - 6/15/2007
Rep Sanchez, Linda T. [D-CA-39] - 6/15/2007
Rep Watson, Diane E. [D-CA-33] - 6/18/2007
Rep Payne, Donald M. [D-NJ-10] - 6/19/2007
Rep Meeks, Gregory W. [D-NY-6] - 6/19/2007
Rep Honda, Michael M. [D-CA-15] - 6/20/2007
Rep Larson, John B. [D-CT-1] - 6/21/2007
Rep Pomeroy, Earl [D-ND] - 6/21/2007
Rep Capuano, Michael E. [D-MA-8] - 6/21/2007
Rep Larsen, Rick [D-WA-2] - 6/21/2007
Rep Lantos, Tom [D-CA-12] - 6/21/2007
Rep Norton, Eleanor Holmes [D-DC] - 6/22/2007
Rep Israel, Steve [D-NY-2] - 6/22/2007
Rep Gilchrest, Wayne T. [R-MD-1] - 6/22/2007
Rep Wexler, Robert [D-FL-19] - 6/25/2007
Rep Jones, Walter B., Jr. [R-NC-3] - 6/27/2007
Rep Frank, Barney [D-MA-4] - 6/27/2007
Rep Hooley, Darlene [D-OR-5] - 6/28/2007
Rep Davis, Tom [R-VA-11] - 7/11/2007
Rep Snyder, Vic [D-AR-2] - 7/11/2007
Rep Crowley, Joseph [D-NY-7] - 7/16/2007
Rep McDermott, Jim [D-WA-7] - 7/16/2007
Rep Jackson-Lee, Sheila [D-TX-18] - 7/17/2007
Rep Smith, Adam [D-WA-9] - 7/17/2007
Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [D-NY-22] - 7/17/2007
Rep Olver, John W. [D-MA-1] - 7/18/2007
Rep Allen, Thomas H. [D-ME-1] - 7/23/2007
Rep Jackson, Jesse, Jr. [D-IL-2] - 7/23/2007
Rep Davis, Danny K. [D-IL-7] - 7/24/2007
Rep Moran, James P. [D-VA-8] - 7/24/2007
Rep Welch, Peter [D-VT] - 7/31/2007
Rep Eshoo, Anna G. [D-CA-14] - 7/31/2007
Rep Filner, Bob [D-CA-51] - 7/31/2007
Rep Berkley, Shelley [D-NV-1] - 8/2/2007
Rep Fattah, Chaka [D-PA-2] - 8/2/2007
Rep Nadler, Jerrold [D-NY-8] - 8/2/2007
Rep Davis, Susan A. [D-CA-53] - 8/2/2007
Rep DeFazio, Peter A. [D-OR-4] - 8/3/2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Iraq Crisis in Numbers

John Holmes, the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs at the UN, recently wrote in the International Herald Tribune that “one of the world's largest and fastest-growing humanitarian crises is also among the least known: Iraq.”

Indeed, Iraqis now represent the third-largest displaced population in the world, and according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), their size is growing at a rate of 50,000 per month. Here is the Iraq crisis by the numbers:

Internally Displaced Persons: 2 million (

Refugees in Syria and Jordan: 2.2 million (UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR)

Refugees fleeing monthly: 50,000 (UNHCR)

Refugees (total): 4.2 million (UNHCR)

Iraqi refugee children: 500,000 (UNHCR)

Iraqi refugee children attending school: 60,000 (UNHCR)

Iraqi children with learning impediments from climate of fear: 92% (Association of Psychologists of Iraq)

Child malnutrition rate: 28% (UNHCR)

Iraqis living in "absolute poverty": 43% (NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq)

Hours of electricity in Baghdadis' homes per day: 2 (NCCI)

Iraqis who have access to clean water: 30% (NCCI)

Iraqis who cannot regularly buy enough to eat: 4 million/15% of the population (UNHCR). (Within this 4 million, only 60% currently have access to government-supplied rations.)

Amount of Iraqi refugees the U.S. pledged to resettle in fiscal year 2007: 2,500 (State Dept.)

Refugees resettled in US in June: 63 (

Refugees resettled in US in July: 57 (IHT)

Iraqi refugees accepted by U.S. to date in fiscal year 07: 190 (IHT)

Iraqi refugees
processed by UNHCR: 160,000 (UNHCR)

Iraqi Refugees UNHCR has processed and referred to US: 8,000+ (UNHCR)

UNHCR appeal for large-scale assistance
program for Iraqis in Jordan and Syria: $123 million (UNHCR)

Amount of UNHCR appeal funded
by U.S. (traditionally 30%): $37 million (State Dept.)

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) appeal: $85 million (VOA News)

IOM appeal funded thus far: $23 million (ReliefWeb)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Jordan Steps Up on Iraqi Refugees Issue -- Now Can the U.S.?

An Iraqi refugee carries his son at a refugee camp near the far eastern Jordanian town of Ruweished, March 29, 2003. [NPR - Corbis]At a conference in Amman on July 26, government officials from Jordan and Syria described the humanitarian crisis and massive economic burden posed by the 2 million refugees, displaced by violence in Iraq, who have sought safety in neighboring countries. Of particular interest were statements made by Jordan's Interior Ministry Secretary-General, Mukheimar Abu-Jamous.

According to the Associated Press, "the influx of 750,000 Iraqis is costing Jordan $1 billion a year in basic services, Abu-Jamous told the gathering in the Jordanian capital." This statement represents a critical admission on the part of the Jordanian government, which had previously downplayed the refugee problem due to questions of its national identity (
Palestinians now make up more than half of the Jordanian population).

Jordan also
announced it would give all Iraqi children in the country access to Jordanian schools. Currently, the government estimates that 19,000 Iraqi girls and boys are in school, while at least 50,000 do not attend.

"We are very grateful to Jordan for this humanitarian decision," said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations. "These host countries have borne an enormous burden caring for millions of Iraqis. The sheer number of uprooted Iraqis has outstripped the capacity of their infrastructure to cope, particularly in the area of education. So we are now asking for international support specifically aimed at assisting these generous host governments in getting Iraqi children back into school."

But while Jordan is beginning to acknowledge and provide assistance to Iraqi refugees, the U.S. record remains dismal.
Our government provided $700 million in emergency aid in 2003 to help the Government of Jordan offset revenue shortfalls and new expenditures resulting from the conflict in Iraq, but has since abandoned emergency aid payments despite the worsening refugee situation. Milad Atiya, the Syrian ambassador to Jordan and head of his country's delegation to the conference, said the international community "must be involved, especially the United States because its policy led to the plight the Iraqis are currently in and it bears responsibility."

However, there remains hope. This week, SEVEN new cosponsors signed on to The Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act (H.R. 2265), legislation which would would provide support for Iraq, NGOs and neighboring countries including Jordan and Syria to handle the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and protection situation for 4 million displaced Iraqis. It also provides special visas for the most at-risk refugees -- particularly those in danger for working closely with American soldiers and NGOs in Iraq.

To find out how YOU can help us tell the U.S. government to start living up to its responsibilities and assisting Iraqi refugees,
click here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Going to the Beach? Bring a Book!

As President Bush prepares for his annual trip to Crawford, Texas, and Members of Congress look forward to August recess, we have a few suggestions for their summer reading lists -- and yours, as well.

EPIC maintains the most up-to-date, comprehensive source of the
Best Books on Iraq for elected officials, policy professionals and concerned citizens such as you. Here are our top five “Must Read” books to take to the beach this summer.

(1) Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward -- A New Approach, by the Iraq Study Group, James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton (Vintage, 2006, ISBN: 0307386562). Americans are voicing frustration over political gridlock on Iraq, causing both Congress and the President to sink in polls. This makes the bipartisan agreement of the Iraq Study Group Report more vital now than ever. This sobering report should be the foundation for changing U.S. policy in Iraq. More Information | Order It Now

(2) The New Counter-Insurgency Manual, by John A. Nagl, David H. Petraeus, James F. Amos and Sarah Sewall (U. of Chicago Press, 2007, ISBN: 0226841510). The result of unprecedented collaboration among top U.S. military experts, scholars, and practitioners in the field, this manual charts a doctrinal shift from “killing and capturing insurgents” to protecting civilian populations. More Information | Order It Now

(3) The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace, by Ali A. Allawi (Yale U. Press, 2007, ISBN: 0300110154). The only book out right now by an Iraqi government insider, The Occupation of Iraq offers first-hand insight into Iraqi politics and society. Allawi examines what the U.S. did and didn’t know at the time of the invasion, the reasons for confused and contradictory policies, and the emergence of the Iraqi political class and sectarian divisions. More Information | Order It Now

(4) A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja, by Joost Hiltermann (Cambridge U. Press, 2007, ISBN: 0521876869). A highly-respected scholar and human rights advocate, Hiltermann describes Iraq's amassing of chemical weapons to target Iranian soldiers and Kurdish villagers as America looked the other way. In the struggle for a new equilibrium in the Middle East, Hiltermann explains how these past policies continue haunting the West. More Information | Order It Now

(5) Iraqi Women: Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present, by Nadje al-Ali (Zed Books, 2007, ISBN: 1842777459). The first compilation of true stories about the women of Iraq and the Iraqi Diaspora, Nadje al-Ali’s interviews reveal the crucial roles Iraqi women play in both the political and domestic spheres. More Information | Order It Now

A portion of all proceeds from book sales goes towards EPIC’s mission to generate peace and relief for the people of Iraq. For more suggestions, check out our full Iraq Book List. Enjoy your summer reading!

P.S. Who says Iraqi Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds can't work together? Read about how the Iraqi soccer team won the Asia Cup against all odds, and watch the game-winning point on EPIC's
Ground Truth Blog!

Iraqi National Team Wins Asia Cup

When news from Iraq reaches us, it's almost always the same: Iraqis killing Iraqis, car bombs, and occasionally, a missed benchmark deadline.

But there are many other narratives in Iraqi society. Iraqis helping family and friends, successes on the ground (that are overlooked in the media), and more recently, Iraqis celebrating their victory together in the 14th Asia Cup finals against Saudi Arabia.

The Iraqi national team is a healthy mix of Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish players. Even they are all too familiar with the pain of Iraq. According to a Reuters report, "Goalkeeper Noor Sari's brother-in-law was killed just before the tournament began, midfielder Nashat Akram's relatives were kidnapped then murdered and Hawar Mulla Mohammad's stepmother died two days before the quarter-final against Vietnam."

The fact that these players were able to play in the face of this overwhelming environment back home is a testament to Iraqis' resilience. There are many stories on the ground that feature such resilience, which you can continue to read about here on the Ground Truth blog. Also, keep an eye out for the Iraqi Peacebuilders Report, which we will co-release with 3D Security in coming weeks.

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