Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union, State of the Candidates

Cheney, Bush and Pelosi at the 2008 State of the Union addressLast night, President Bush delivered an hour-long State of the Union address touching upon the U.S. economy, healthcare, education, the environment, immigration and other issues relevant to our country.

But on the subject of Iraq, it was the same-old, same-old:
is the surge working? Yes, Bush insists, trumpeting its successes while failing to acknowledge the real work that still needs to be done in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and economy. Should we withdraw troops? No, Bush maintains, not until their job is done, but he fails to mention the crucial, sustainable development programs that must replace withdrawn troops in order for true peace and security to be established.

And completely absent from Bush's 10 minutes on Iraq and almost 20 minutes on the Middle East was any mention of the four million plus
Iraqis displaced by violence, whose unmet needs threaten the stability of the region and thus U.S. interests.

That Bush continues to ignore the humanitarian and economic dimensions of rebuilding Iraq is no surprise. More disturbing is that rhetoric seems similarly adrift amongst the presidential candidates, who drag on with the same old arguments over the surge and "you-supported-the-war, no-you-did" finger-pointing. Like the President, they seem reluctant to discuss what Iraq needs in terms any more specific than "surge" and "withdrawal."

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the 2008 State of the Union AddressEPIC does not take political sides, but we want you to know where the candidates stand on the real issues in Iraq. For starters, here's a discussion of the leading Democratic candidates (the Republicans are so far taking Bush's lead and not mentioning the word "refugee" at all if they can help it; none of the leading candidates address the crisis on their official websites).

Back in July, Hillary Clinton mentioned increasing aid to refugees. Indeed, the official Iraq policy outlined on her website states:

As our forces redeploy out of Iraq, Hillary would also organize a multi-billion dollar international effort -- funded by a wide range of donor states -- under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to address the needs of Iraqi refugees.
Her website also mentions funds for reconstruction and aid to NGOs able to best assist the Iraqi people.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama's website is a little more specific. In addition to a detailed
six-page plan attached as a .pdf (two pages of which are dedicated to rehashing the over-exposed fact that the candidate did not support the war in 2003), the Obama website states:

Obama believes that America has a moral and security responsibility to confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis — two million Iraqis are refugees; two million more are displaced inside their own country. Obama will form an international working group to address this crisis. He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven.
In his more detailed plan, he also makes reference to reconstruction aid, as well as the U.S. responsibility to its Iraqi allies.

These are some good, if vague, ideas -- but why are they relegated to the candidates' websites when they ought to be the subject of intense debates surrounding every primary? Why are we still hearing the same-old, same-old from leaders on both sides instead of a real discussion of durable, long-term solutions? Where are the detailed plans for economic recovery and humanitarian relief?

Bush may be a lame duck at this point, but we won't stop trying to steer political discourse away from useless finger-pointing on whether the war was initially right or wrong. The mistakes are known. Now it's time to be realistic about the challenges, and focus on the solutions.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Headlines 1/24/08

Some great reports and news items about Iraq from the past week or so.

Lawmakers Seek $1.5 Billion to Help Iraqi Refugees
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post
January 24, 2008

A Year Later, Surge's Impact Seen in Some Areas
By Tom Bowman
National Public Radio
January 7, 2008

Remarkable progress in Iraq
By Heller Dale
Washington Times
January 23, 2008

Iraq's New Law on Ex-Baathists Could Bring Another Purge
By Amit R. Paley and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post
January 23, 2008

1 in 5 Iraqi refugees in Syria suffered torture or violence back home
UN News Service
January 22, 2008

UN Envoy Applauds Cut in Iraq Violence
By Edith M. Lederer
The Associated Press
January 22, 2008

Democratic rivals play down value of Iraq surge
By William Shawcross
Financial Times (UK)
January 22, 2008

Iraqi Government Must Not Be Left Alone to Tackle Security, Structural, Political Challenges
By Special Representative Steffan De Mistura
UN Security Council
January 21, 2008

Kept In a State of Limbo
Newsweek International
January 19, 2008

The Iraqi Refugee Crisis: the Need for Action
Migration Policy Institute
January 18, 2008

US Contributes $20 Million to the Joint UN Appeal for Iraqi Refugee Health Problems
U.S. State Department
January 17, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bush, State Department Continue to Fail U.S. Allies in Need

A Marine officer talks through an Iraqi interpreter (L), with the manager of a water pump project near Fallujah. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)In his eight days in the Middle East, President Bush visited six countries (seven, depending on how you count Palestine). Among the high points: he re-affirmed American support for a Palestinian state, called on Israel to return to its 1967 borders, and announced a $20 billion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia. However, the President remained silent on the Iraqi refugee crisis.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos has conceded that the U.S. is falling far short of its goal for taking in Iraqi translators and interpreters under threat for working with the United States in Iraq. But contained within his public acknowledgement was something even more disturbing. Gallegos suggested that the State Dept. is counting these specially-designated Iraqis against it's commitment to resettle 12,000 Iraqi refugees in FY 2008.

In fact, Senator Kennedy and Congress recently passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act that requires the admission of 5,000 Iraqis through expedited Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) IN ADDITION TO whatever targets established by the Administration for Iraqi refugees. Furthermore, the Kennedy bill expands who is eligible to apply for SIVs beyond just translators and interpreters (a detail the major media outlets continue to overlook). The mechanism is also intended to help protect especially vulnerable Iraqis who belong to a group facing persecution.

Nevertheless, there is a reason why Iraqi translators and interpreters are getting most of the attention. According to
the Washington Post:
Thousands of Iraqi translators have assisted U.S. forces since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, risking their lives and leaving their families vulnerable to retaliation from insurgents who see them as accomplices of American troops.

More than 250 of the interpreters working with the United States -- or with U.S. contractors -- have been killed. But the U.S. asylum program for translators seeking to leave the country has fallen far short of demand and, at times, short of what other coalition countries have offered their Iraqi staff.
Unfortunately, the State Department is not only lagging far behind its commitment to resettle 12,000 Iraqi refugees, it is now trying to confuse that commitment with a separate requirement by Congress to resettle 5,000 especially vulnerable Iraqis through SIVs. The total target that the State Dept. ought to reaffirm is 17,000 for FY 2008, which is still a tiny fraction of the 4.5 million Iraqis who have been displaced. All of that and Bush's ongoing silence about the entire refugee crisis has us very worried. We'll be listening to his State of the Union speech, scheduled for next Tuesday (Jan. 29th), with great interest.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bush Must End Silence on Refugee Crisis

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds a welcoming ceremony for Bush on Thursday.Bush has neglected visiting the Middle East, arguably the most strategically important part of the world, for seven years. But today, he is finally there, and finally encouraging efforts towards peace and prosperity in the region. Now, EPIC joins Refugees International and other organizations in calling on the President to end his silence on Iraq's refugee crisis, as well.

Over 4.5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, with nearly 2.5 million Iraqi civilians fleeing to neighboring countries and over 2 million displaced internally within Iraq. Refugees are overwhelming the basic infrastructure of Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, raising concerns about further destabilization of the region. Iraqis have no legal work options in most host countries, and are increasingly desperate. They face challenges in obtaining food, and have trouble accessing host countries’ health and education systems. Women and children are especially vulnerable, and a sense of frustration, despair and abandonment permeates communities of displaced Iraqis throughout the region.

At a time when Bush has expressed optimism about the prospect of regional dialogue, his administration must also engage proactively on Iraqi displacement and its impacts. The President's Middle East visit includes meetings with Arab leaders about developments in Iraq, as well as regional security and relations between the United States and these close allies. It is imperative that Bush use this visit to establish a robust international response to the humanitarian needs of displaced Iraqis.

President Bush must encourage the international community to contribute desperately needed financial and political support to the host countries to ensure that basic services are available for Iraqi refugees. The U.S. must also do more for refugees, directly. The current resettlement goal of 12,000 is too low. In order to begin living up to our responsibilities, we must commit to resettling at least 96,000 Iraqi refugees in the United States for FY 2008.

a protest against Bush’s visit to Israel and Palestinian territories yesterdayUnfortunately, the administration is failing to even meet its current goal. According to the Associated Press, “The steady decline — from 450 in October to 362 in November and 245 in December — means the administration will have to allow in 10,943 Iraqis over the next nine months, or roughly 1,215 per month, to meet the target it has set for itself.” Meanwhile, the administration is also failing to martial sufficient funding and resources to assist Iraq, Jordan, and other countries struggling to meet the needs of 4.5 million displaced Iraqis.

As long as Bush remains silent about the crisis, his administration and the international community will continue to lack the resolve to respond to its urgency and magnitude. The value of a Presidential commitment to resolving this crisis cannot be overstated.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Headlines 1/8/08

To kick off the new year, we at EPIC are planning to rejuvinate the Ground Truth blog, bringing you more news and insights about the current realities in Iraq.

With the news media continuing to feature only stories of gore and body counts, and political candidates only concerned with a falacious, black-and-white question of "to withdraw or not to withdraw", the need for honest reporting on Iraq is as great as ever. Meanwhile, conditions for the growing numbers of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons are ever more dire.

EPIC's blogging goal: to shine a spotlight on peacebuilding efforts in Iraq, so we can figure out what works and increase support for those policies and projects. And to raise awareness about the plight of those displaced by violence in Iraq, and tell you what you can do to help.

You can start off by supporting EPIC's efforts with a donation, here. Or email us for information on how you can become a guest blogger or contributor, and help keep us up-to-date on all the latest and most important stories.

Just to get things rolling, here are some of today's headlines regarding peacebuilding and the refugee crisis.

New Leaders Of Sunnis Make Gains In Influence
by Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post

U.N. Refugee Agency Seeks $261 Million
By Eliane Engeler
Associated Press

U.N. says to help Iraqis choosing to return home
by Laura MacInnis

Surgery and Recovery, Then Back to Iraq
a slideshow look at the work of Doctors Without Borders, treating badly wounded Iraqi civilians.
The New York Times

Around Baghdad, Signs of Normal Life Creep Back
a slideshow look at how residents across the Baghdad are taking steps to return to normalcy as security improves.
The New York Times

Check back here regularly for more updates!
Clicky Web Analytics