Monday, April 14, 2008

FORUM: Stabilize Iraq Through Strong U.S. Response to Humanitarian Crisis

Following the recent Petraeus-Crocker hearings largely ignoring the humanitarian crisis facing millions of Iraqis, leading experts just back from Iraq and the Middle East gathered with hundreds of constituents from across the U.S. on Monday for “Iraq Action Days.” This diverse coalition of leading U.S. non-governmental organizations (see list, below) shared the latest on-the-ground perspectives of the deepening humanitarian disaster, and recommended clear policy options and action to assist and protect millions of vulnerable Iraqis.

“On my recent trip to Iraq, it was completely clear that the country and the region are in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of people -– the UN is estimating over a million –- do not even have access to clean water, food, or shelter, let alone adequate health services or educational opportunities,” said Heather Hanson, Director of Public Relations at Mercy Corps. “U.S. officials need to recognize that real stability in Iraq and the region depends upon our capacity to work together with the international community and Iraqi partners to support programs that provide the required emergency life-saving assistance, lay the groundwork for long-term reconciliation and development, and prevent further displacement.”

Bob Carey, Vice President of Resettlement Programs at the International Rescue Committee and Chair of Refugee Council USA, pointed out that “this is one of the fastest growing humanitarian crises in the world, yet the U.S. response has been largely slow, meager and halfhearted. Displaced Iraqis are growing more traumatized, sick and destitute every day, yet they find unimaginable the prospect of returning home safely any time soon. The scale of the emergency requires a significant global response, but the U.S. has a special responsibility to lead the way in aid and resettlement.”

"The people of Iraq and the United States are interconnected by the events over the past five years, and a growing number of Americans understand the need and obligation to help displaced Iraqis," said Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International. "The U.S. should be the global leader in resettling the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees, but we are lagging behind other countries. Most disturbing, we are failing to help many Iraqis who risked their lives to support U.S. forces and help with American reconstruction plans."

The conference featured consensus that:
• Vulnerable Iraqis who are in Iraq or who have fled to neighboring countries are in immediate and urgent need of the most basic humanitarian assistance.

• The United States should strengthen support to non-governmental organizations assisting vulnerable Iraqis and should fund at least 50 percent of amounts requested in appeals from international organizations providing humanitarian support to Iraqis.

• Many displaced Iraqis will never be able to return home safely. The United States should expedite the resettlement of vulnerable Iraqis and vastly increase the number admitted.

• The United States should significantly increase humanitarian assistance to countries hosting Iraqi refugees to ease the strain on their national systems, as well as press Iraq and other countries to also respond generously to meet these needs.
“This forum is only the beginning," said conference organizer Erik Gustafson, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War and director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC). “After last week’s Petraeus-Crocker hearings, Americans have more questions about the deepening humanitarian crisis facing millions of Iraqis: What is the U.S. doing about it? What should the U.S. be doing about it? If stability in Iraq is so important, why are humanitarian needs still going unmet for many Iraqi families, and why are so many vulnerable Iraqis still largely unprotected?"

"The success of today's Iraq Action Days forum demonstrates that Americans and Iraqis alike are united in wanting to see stronger leadership and cooperation to address the humanitarian consequences of ongoing violence in Iraq," Gustafson concluded.

Photo caption (from left to right): RABIH TORBAY, Vice President of International Operations, International Medical Corps; SAMUEL M. WITTEN, Acting Asst. Sec. of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; KATHLEEN NEWLAND, Director and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute; and KEN BACON, President of Refugees International, discuss the U.S. and International Response to the Crisis at the Iraq Policy Forum (George Washington University, April 14, 2008).

Participating organizations: InterAction, Refugee Council USA, Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), International Rescue Committee, 3D Security Initiative, Amnesty International USA, Chaldean Federation of America, Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America, Church World Service, Center for Victims of Torture, The Episcopal Church, Human Rights First, International Medical Corps, Mandaean Associations Union, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Mercy Corps, NETWORK: a national Catholic Social Justice Lobby, North American Dominican Justice and Peace Promoters, Open Society Policy Center, Oxfam America, Refugees International, Veterans for Common Sense, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and World Relief.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Headlines 4/14/08

A selection of articles on Iraq from the past week.

Refugees fight forced return to Iraq war zones
Guardian (UK)
April 13, 2008
The United Nations last night accused the government of holding a 'sword of Damocles' over the heads of Iraqi refugees in Britain after it emerged that the Home Office had won a landmark test case giving it the power to return refugees to war-torn parts of their home country, including Basra and Baghdad.

Iraq Veterans Help New Immigrants
New York Times
April 12, 2008
Bullets whizzed past as "Sarah" translated for U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Shrapnel from a roadside blast hit her protective vest. In her off hours, she worried about retribution for helping the Americans. A sign reading "traitor" was posted on her family's door.

Iraq's National Identity Is Alive and Growing
Wall Street Journal
April 10, 2008
Those who see only serious problems within the Iraqi government and society miss the point. Iraqis are the first to admit to their shortcomings. What is important is that they are determined to overcome them. They also know it will be a long and painful process of incremental progress, punctuated by setbacks.

Iraqi Refugees Find Sweden’s Door Closing
Washington Post
April 10, 2008
"Even if they remake Iraq from gold and diamonds, I wouldn't go back," said Merzoian, 31, a computer programmer who said he arrived last year after a 10-day trip hidden in a smuggler's truck with his wife and two young children.

Syrian, Jordanian diplomats urge U.S. to share Iraqi refugee burden
Catholic News Service
April 9, 2008
"The situation is terrible and the burden" on Syria's resources and population is horrendous, said Imad Moustapha, Syrian ambassador to the U.S. The "United States is categorically refusing to help" solve the refugee crisis, "the largest exodus in the Middle East," he said.

Iraq oil production drops slightly as Baghdad criticized for spending oil proceeds
Iraq Oil Report
April 9, 2008
Iraq oil production decreased in March, along with OPEC as a whole, as Baghdad was pressed by Washington to spend more of its revenues, United Press International’s Ben Lando reports.

Iraq's Real Gains
Washington Post
April 9, 2008
Liberation offered us the opportunity to construct a new state, based on the rule of law and democratic principles. Unlike in the past, this Iraq would acknowledge and build upon its diverse ethnic and religious identities. That promise has not yet been fulfilled. Mistakes have been made, and few Iraqis doubt that political and economic reconstruction could have been handled better.

Senators Urge Bush to Appoint Official for Iraq Refugee Policy
Washington Post
April 8, 2008
Two leading Democratic senators have called for the Bush administration to appoint a senior official to coordinate overall U.S. policy for the more than 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq during the war and are now in Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

An advocate for Iraq's displaced Christians
Los Angeles Times
April 4, 2008
Over the last decade, DeKelaita has obtained asylum for hundreds of Iraqi Christians threatened with deportation. He travels the U.S. to counsel distraught, uprooted men and women who have fled religious persecution in Iraq.

Non-ID Palestinians in Lebanon limbo
BBC News
April 2, 2008
They are not even given the status of refugees. Legally, they don't seem to exist at all. They are among about 3,000 so-called "non-ID" Palestinians in Lebanon. Many don't qualify for aid and have been unable to leave the refugee camps, find jobs or even get married.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Iraqi Palestinian Crisis

Guest blog by Refugees International Senior Advocate Kristele Younes and Refugee Council USA Director Elizabeth Campbell

Palestinian refugees threatened by violence in Anbar province, Iraq.With a few notable exceptions, the international community has largely failed to respond to the urgent and particular needs of Palestinian refugees from Iraq. These refugees continue to be systematically targeted inside Iraq, denied asylum and protection by neighboring countries and the larger international community, and confined to inhospitable border camps. Palestinians are living under extremely hostile conditions and are in need of immediate access to asylum and voluntary durable solutions, including repatriation, local integration, and third country resettlement.

Palestinian refugees in Baghdad have little protection from the Iraqi government or the international community. At the time of the 2003 invasion, there were an estimated 34,000 refugees from Palestine who had lived as guests in Baghdad since 1948. These refugees were granted permission to work and access services, but they could not own property or garner citizenship. Since the start of the war, as non-Iraqis and non-citizens, Palestinians have been afforded little protection inside Iraq. In addition, because of their vulnerable circumstances, Palestinians have been especially targeted by a wide variety of armed groups who have threatened, detained, killed, and tortured many of them. Moreover, there has been no targeted aid or other assistance to these people in several years.

A Palestinian Iraqi child holds up a sign saying 'I'm dying in the desert' in the Al-Tanf refugee camp.Palestinian refugees are among the few groups from Iraq that have been systematically denied asylum. Despite their vulnerability and great need, and unlike hundreds of thousands of other refugees from Iraq, Palestinians attempting to seek asylum in neighboring countries have largely been denied entry, especially to urban centers. They have instead been confined to desert border camps. While the Jordanian camp was recently closed, three such camps remain in and around Syria. One camp, Al-Tanf, is located in the no-man’s land between Iraq and Syria. These refugees are stranded at the border and have been repeatedly denied asylum. Refugees with chronic illnesses, including cancer, have been denied access to treatment. Similarly, over 1,900 Palestinians living in Al-Walid also have little access to services beyond the camp. The 300 Palestinians in Al-Hol can access health care and education but must otherwise live in the camp. This differs radically from the 300,000 other Palestinian refugees who have lived in Syria with full access to jobs and services.

Palestinian refugees are subjected to deportation. A few thousand Palestinians from Iraq were able to enter Syria clandestinely. Of 700 families, one in three households is female-headed. There are also many children. In recent weeks about two hundred of these refugees have been deported to Al-Tanf Camp. Unlike other refugees from Iraq, Palestinians are actively being targeted and deported.

The future of Palestinians from Iraq remains bleak. Though they are refugees from 1948, Palestinians living in border camps are under the UNHCR mandate rather than the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNHCR has long advocated that these refugees are the most vulnerable refugees from Iraq and are therefore in need of immediate durable solutions. Until now Israel has not granted safe passage to allow some of them to reunite with family members in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Currently, there are no local integration options available to them, as they remain stranded in confined camps. Moreover, they cannot return safely to Baghdad. Finally, only Brazil and Chile have graciously agreed to protect some of these refugees. While there is some new interest by a few European countries to possibly consider protecting Palestinians, the U.S. should be leading the effort to help facilitate permanent solutions for these refugees—many of whom have been violently uprooted and displaced for the second or third time.

Guest blog by Refugees International Senior Advocate Kristele Younes and Refugee Council USA Director Elizabeth Campbell

Monday, April 07, 2008

Iraq Headlines 4/7/08

A selection of articles on Iraq from the past week.

Victims of Shiite violence in Basra.Between Iraqi Shiites, a Deepening Animosity
Washington Post
April 7, 2008
As verses from the Koran floated from a loudspeaker, the Shiite militia commander's face glowered. Inside the cavernous funeral tent, a large portrait of his 16-year-old son, Mustafa, hung over the mourners. Abu Abdullah, who fought U.S. troops and Sunni insurgents for five years, never expected his son to die before him. Now, he said, his anger was directed at other Shiites.

Sadr Party Faces Rising Isolation
Associated Press
April 6, 2008
Iraq's major Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties have closed ranks to force anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to disband his Mahdi Army militia or leave politics, lawmakers and officials involved in the effort said Sunday.

State Department to Renew Blackwater's Security Contract in Iraq
Mother Jones
April 5, 2008
While a cloud still hangs over Blackwater, and it remains the subject of multiple investigations, including one by Henry Waxman's House oversight committee, the State Department shocked some Blackwater watchers yesterday by announcing that it would renew the firm's contract for another year.

Palestinian refugees fleeing Iraq fly to Chile
Associated Press
April 5, 2008
More than three dozen Palestinian refugees who fled violence in Iraq and have been stranded on the border with Syria for nearly two years flew Saturday to Chile, where the government has agreed to host them.

Iraq moves on oil, graft laws
United Press International
April 3, 2008
Negotiators are hammering out a new draft Iraq oil law after previous versions stalled, and as Parliament is moving forward on two new laws, one reconstituting the state oil company and another cracking down on oil and fuel smuggling.

Million Iraqi refugees are casualties of war
The Mountain Mail
April 3, 2008
Packed cells hold scores of Iraqi refugees. Men and women who fled a shattered country now wait in silence underground as bureaucracies slowly churn and the world pays little heed. Nearly five years after the invasion of Iraq, this is what sanctuary means for some who survived bombings, beatings and hushed journeys across borders.

Asylum demand end of all deportation of refugees to Greece
Europe World News
April 3, 2008
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) has called on the EU to halt the deportation of asylum seekers to Greece as the Greek authorities in 2007 didn't grant protection to one refugee from Afghanistan or Iraq, the council said Thursday in Brussels. According to ECRE, which represents 63 European refugee- assisting organizations, while Germany, Sweden and Cyprus have accepted over 80 per cent of Iraqi asylum seekers as refugees, Greece's acceptance rate amounts to 0 per cent.

The U.S. must do more to help Iraqi refugees
Kennebec Journal
April 3, 2008
At the very least, the United States has a moral obligation to resettle those Iraqis who helped the American military and to increase aid to those nations now harboring the great majority of refugees, Jordan and Syria. At the very least, the United States must do a better job admitting these vulnerable people than it did in 2007, when Refugees International says only 1,600 of a promised 7,000 Iraqis were resettled.

Iraq’s Sunni Time Bomb
New York Times
April 3, 2008
WHILE the recent fighting in Basra and Baghdad has alerted many Americans to the danger that Shiite-on-Shiite violence poses to our goals in Iraq, it should not divert our focus from another looming threat: that the Sunni tribesmen who have sided with the American-led coalition may turn against us.

Bush shamefully flees Iraqi refugee crisis
Philadelphia Enquirer
April 2, 2008
In several recent speeches on Iraq, there was one issue President Bush never mentioned. That's the issue of Iraqi refugees.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's Not Too Late -- Register Now!!!

Register Now!It's spring in Washington, DC, the cherry blossoms are in bloom and IRAQ ACTION DAYS are fast approaching. It's the perfect time to plan a trip to our Nation's Capitol. Already, more than sixty EPIC supporters and friends from around the country have signed up to join us this April 14-16.

If you are planning to come to IRAQ ACTION DAYS, you must register by this Friday, April 4th.

Here is the latest on our developing program. On April 14th, EPIC and our coalition partners will convene a national Forum on the Humanitarian Crisis Facing Iraqis. Hosted by the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, the forum will offer the latest information about the crisis and what can be done to help millions of Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable Iraqis in need.

Speakers include:
- The Hon. SAMIR SHAKIR MAHMOUD SUMAYDA’IE, Iraq's Ambassador to the United States;

- CONGRESSMAN JOHN D. DINGELL, U.S. Representative for Michigan's 15th District;

- SAMUEL M. WITTEN, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration;

- RADHOUANE NOUICER, Director of Middle East North Africa Bureau, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR);

- DANA GRABER LADEK, Iraq Displacement Specialist, International Organization for Migration (IOM);

- KEN BACON, President, Refugees International;

- RABIH TORBAY, Vice President of International Operations, International Medical Corps (IMC);

- HEATHER HANSON, Director of Public Affairs, Mercy Corps;

- ROBERT CAREY, VP Resettlement, International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Chair, Refugee Council USA (RCUSA);

- BILL FRELICK, Refugee Policy Director, Human Rights Watch;

- PHEBE MARR, Historian of Modern Iraq and Middle East Consultant;

- NABIL AL-TIKRITI, Senior Fellow, United States Institute for Peace.
For a complete list of presenters, visit the Iraq Action Days website.

Following the forum, we will gather at Busboys & Poets for an evening cultural program featuring poetry, presentations and Grammy-nominated Iraqi Oud Master Rahim alHaj. Then on Tuesday, we'll have a special training session to teach you how to be an effective public advocate before spending two days on Capitol Hill urging our lawmakers to support much-needed humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq.

If you are planning to come to IRAQ ACTION DAYS, you must register by this Friday, April 4th.

Last year thousands of EPIC members helped significantly improve Washington's response to the humanitarian crisis. Now we need YOU to come to Washington, DC to petition our elected leaders directly.

Change begins with you. We hope you can join us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Who are the "Bad Guys" in Iraq?

The Mehdi Army in Iraq [photo: AP]With U.S. forces now funding and arming tribal leaders once considered insurgents themselves and the recent surge of violence in southern Iraq and parts of Baghdad against a group that had been operating under a ceasefire, it's easy to get confused about just who, exactly, we're fighting over there.

Certainly it's easy to point a finger at al-Qaeda. Of course, al-Qaeda wasn't in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion, but they are now and we have to deal with it. But there is danger in
seeing al-Qaeda around every corner; their actual numbers and strength may be overestimated or even purposely inflated to garner support for a continued U.S. troop presence. In fact, even the State Department admits there are likely less that 1,000 al-Qaeda-related insurgents in Iraq, making them responsible for less than 2% of violence according to the Congressional Research Service.

So we've bought off a lot of the Sunnis we used to be fighting and, at least for now, they're working with us against al-Qaeda, but al-Qaeda's role is relatively small. So who is causing all the trouble you're hearing about in Iraq? We turn to the Shi'ite side, and to the man of whom it's impossible to find a flattering picture on the internet: Muqtada al-Sadr.

Muqtada al-SadrMost of the media reports of the recent fighting in Basra and Baghdad assume Sadr and his Mahdi Army are the "Bad Guys" creating violence and turmoil, and the government forces, backed by the U.S., are the legitimate authorities trying to bring peace and order. But just as you can't tell a book by its cover or a man from how sinister he happens to look in his picture, this is a dangerous oversimplification.

While elements of Sadr's movement have been guilty of sectarian cleansing and continued acts of violence despite the cease-fire Sadr declared last summer, there is no evidence he has condoned their attacks and in fact seems to actively try to reign them in. Meanwhile,
Sadr seems to be gaining in political sophistication, coming to the bargaining table yesterday in sharp contrast to his actions in 2004 (when he ordered his militia to fight to the death in Najaf).

And we can't afford to ignore the fact that Sadr has a strong base of power and is likely to remain an important player in Iraq. According to David Ignatius of the Washington Post,
It's hard to imagine a stable future Iraq that doesn't have support from the poor Shiites who follow Sadr. A sign of their power is the rising last week in Shiite neighborhoods of eastern Baghdad. If the Shiite community en masse goes into the streets, the American mission is effectively finished; we can't fight 60 percent of the people.
While Muqtada al-Sadr may not make the short list of U.S. allies in Iraq, counting him as an enemy is neither prudent nor entirely accurate. Last month, the International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended that U.S. and Iraqi military forces continue focusing on legitimate military targets and try to encorporate Sadr in the political process at every opportunity. The man isn't going away and neither are his supporters, and this week's failed attempt to take the Mahdi stronghold of Basra proves the necessity of implementing the ICG recommendations as official policy immediately.

For a breakdown of some of the key power-players in Iraq's civil war, check out this Reuters article.
Clicky Web Analytics