Thursday, July 31, 2008

Plight of Iraqi refugees demands 'humanitarian surge'

In today’s edition of The Hill, Congressmen Hastings and Dingell published an editorial calling for a “humanitarian surge” to confront the refugee and displacement crisis in Iraq. “Not nearly enough attention and resources have been devoted to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region…Iraqis remain stranded, jobless and deprived of essential services, with conditions worsening by the day. As resources are depleted and desperation sets in, this deepening humanitarian crisis threatens to further destabilize the entire region.”

Congressmen Hastings and Dingell, along with Congressman Shays, recently introduced the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act (H.R. 6496), a long-term comprehensive strategy to address the humanitarian and security crisis in Iraq and the region.

Specifically, H.R. 6496 supports a multi-year, comprehensive plan to address the deepening crisis facing Iraqi refugees, displaced persons and other vulnerable Iraqis by doing the following:
  • Authorizing $700 million for each of the fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011 for the relief of Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable Iraqis;
  • Increasing direct accountable bilateral assistance, as appropriate under U.S. law, and funding for international organizations and NGOs working in the region;
  • Authorizing $500 million to increase infrastructure support for Jordan to help meet the needs of 100,000s of Iraqi refugees;
  • Providing technical assistance to grow the capacity of Iraqi government agencies responding to humanitarian needs inside Iraq;
  • Increasing Iraqi refugees admissions to the United States by 20,000 for FY 2009, 2010 and 2011, and requires improvements in the efficiency of the resettlement application process;
  • Establishing a Special Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons within the Executive Office of the President to ensure expeditious and effective implementation of the overall strategy; and
  • Urging increased cooperation between the United States government and the international community to address this crisis.
The bill has already been endorsed by more than 25 non-governmental organizations and religious groups and is generating a huge amount of excitement in the NGO community. In their editorial, Congressmen Hastings and Dingell urge their colleagues to “set partisan politics aside and work together to find common solutions to this desperate situation.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Future of the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq

This morning I attended The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) panel concerning The Future of the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq. It featured Kimberly Kagan of The Institute for the Study of War, Colin Kahl of The Center for a New American Security, Charles Knight of The Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute, and Rend al-Rahim of the USIP. The panel was moderated by Daniel Serwer, also of USIP. Also in attendance was Marc Lynch, better known as the author of Abu Aardvark. Lynch reports:

To very briefly summarize, Kimberly Kagan laid out the familiar argument for the surge's success and the great progress being made, with more nuance and caveats than in some of her op-eds (but still drawing this from Colin Kahl: "I guess I see the glass half-empty, and Kim sees the glass as... overflowing"). Charles Knight gave a highly cogent presentation of the Commonwealth Institute's "Quickly, Carefully, Generously" report, arguing passionately that there will be no real political reconciliation until American military forces leave. Colin Kahl presented the Center for a New American Security's "Shaping the Iraqi Inheritance" report calling for "conditional engagement", arguing for the need to move away from 'Iraq centrism' (strategic interests actually exist beyond Iraq's borders, if you can believe it) and 'Iraq maximalism' (holding our policies hostage to outcomes manifestly beyond our capabilities to produce). Finally, Rend al-Rahim laid out a devastating depiction of Iraq's current situation, and - perhaps surprisingly - offered a wholehearted endorsement of Kahl's description of Iraq and policy recommendations.

Charles Knight spoke about the impact of the refugee crisis in Iraq: "The price we and others are paying for these blunders is not measured in blood and treasure alone – although these costs are already terribly high." He pointed to the Task Force report, which addresses one example of the extraordinary costs of the war:

There are now millions of refugees and millions of internally displaced persons, totally nearly 15% of the Iraq population. The displacement of a proportional number of Americans would mean: 45 million forced from their homes, the equivalent of emptying out the population of America’s ten largest cities. This happened under the American watch in Iraq. It is an immense failure for an occupying power; one we still respond to in the most "care less" of ways.

I noted that only two of the four panelists, Colin Kahl and Rend al-Rahim, used the phrase "sustainable security" in regard to the future of Iraq. In all my shaky earnestness, I got up to the microphone and pointed out this fact, and then proceeded to ask the first question in Q&A session:

"My question pertains to the ongoing process of securing peace in Iraq. In the opinion of the panelists, how is the future of peace in Iraq effected by the ticking time-bomb of 4.7 million displaced Iraqis, and what are the potential future effects of this deepening crisis, such as the unmet needs of those with no access to livelihoods?"

Rend al-Rahim replied that the dire conditions in which large numbers of refugees in Syria and Jordan live could breed radicalization, and therefore make refugees prone to taking extremist positions. Colin Kahl emphasized that clear and well-enforced property rights laws for returning internally displaced persons and refugees will be very important in securing a peaceful transition to regular life once refugees are resettled, but this will be a difficult task. Kahl also suggested that the IDPs be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections.

I applaud their recognition of the huge role that vulnerable refugees will play in the future and for understanding that the reactions of the displaced will have a huge impact on the future of Iraq and therefore should be considered when discussing America's role in the conflict.

Photo Caption: Panelists speak about the future of the U.S. military in Iraq at a forum hosted by the United States Institute of Peace

Thursday, July 24, 2008

U.S. Expands Visa Program for Iraqi Allies

The New York Times is reporting that the United States is expanding its visa program for Iraqi allies by 10 times. The expansion is specifically for Iraqi employees of the American government and armed forces, who faced threats because of their service. It expands the qualifications of those who are eligible to obtain visas and ultimately citizenship in the United States. Last year, Senators Kennedy and Smith created a similar plan, but this version is better because of its scale, because resettled persons receive assistance for eight months after being settled in the United States, and because applicants can apply from within Iraq.

According to Amelia Templeton, a refugee analyst at Human Rights First, “The visa programs grew largely because of the combined lobbying efforts of refugee experts, nonprofit organizations, United States government employees who worked in Iraq and American soldiers and marines.”

This is a welcome step towards the current administration addressing the refugee crisis, but the State Department and administration still must do more to meet the needs of the nearly five million displaced Iraqis, not just those who allied with coalition forces in Iraq.

Making It...Nasser Nouri's Story

Yesterday, I attended a briefing by the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs which included special guests Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri. Jonathan Finer worked as a journalist covering the conflict in Iraq in 2003 and again in 2005, in addition to covering the refugee crisis in Syria and Jordan. Naseer Nouri, the briefing's most prominent speaker, worked as an Iraqi journalist and interpreter for the Washington Post from 2003 to 2008.

The Tulsa, Oklahoma (USA) graduate, former pilot and aircraft engineer fell into a job with the Washington Post after a chance encounter with Anthony Shadid, the Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent who was covering the looting in Baghdad following the fall of the regime.
After a number of meetings with Shadid, either at Nouri's house, where Shadid was welcomed by his family, or at the hotel where Shadid was staying, he introduced Nouri to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief, and then Nouri started working with him, which brought about his interest in journalism. The looters had broken into Nouri's travel agency and were hauling off anything of value. Shadid couldn't help but notice Nouri yelling at the looters, and they agreed to meet later to discuss the experience. When Shadid discovered Nouri's near-fluency in English, he offered Nouri a job as a translator for the Post's Baghdad bureau.

Nouri explains: "Until then, I had mostly used newspapers to clean windows. After a number of meetings with Shadid, either at my house, where he was welcomed by my family, or at the hotel where he was staying, I became very interested about journalism. With time, I moved from translation to writing."

Proud of his new career, in which he could ensure that the history of Iraq was written correctly, news of Nouri's career move spread throughout his neighborhood. Then, in the span of 15 days, events occurred that changed Nouri and his family's life forever. Twice, a group of men narrowly missed abducting his youngest daughter, while Al Qaeda succeeded in kidnapping his 15 year old nephew. In a separate incident, his nephue escaped his captors by claiming to use the restroom. Other family members were also targeted. His
brother in-law was killed by men in police uniform when he was on his way to Baghdad from Kirkuk, at the north east of Baghdad. He came to bring Nouri's family some money so they could obtain passports and be able to travel to Amman.

Nouri took his family to Amman, Jordan to keep them safe. Facing numerous obstacles to a better life there, he knew he had to try to get his family to America. Applying to the UNHCR in February 2007, Nouri wasn't accepted until the 21rst of May 2008. In America, Nouri and his family still face tremendous challenges not unlike the other "lucky" refugees who make it to America, in a system not fully prepared to resettle families. Our Iraqi allies who make it to the United States have considerable talents, which if utilized contribute to society. Instead, many refugees are forced to take low paying jobs that don't match their professional skill sets and educational experience. According to Mr. Nouri, the best thing we can do is to set up a system that fully integrates Iraqi refugees into society, from getting them here to making sure that parents have proper jobs and their children are properly educated. Think about how frustrating it must be for an Iraqi teenager to have to start school many grade levels below their peers once they get to America.

Nouri and Finer agreed that, even if the U.S. meets its goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees for this fiscal year, in addition to admitting another 5,000 Iraqis through the Special Immigrant Visa program, the U.S. effort is a drop in the bucket considering both the scale of the crisis, over 2 million refugees and over 2.7 million internally displaced, and the U.S.'s moral obligation to its Iraqi allies. No matter you feel about the war, we can all agree that the U.S. must do more to raise its admittance goals and take care of vulnerable Iraqis, even once they make it to the United States. Vulnerable Iraqis should not be forced to choose between a life of poverty and mortal danger.

Photo Caption: A recent photograph of Nasser Nouri

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Improved Iraqi Army and the Latest ICG Report

I found an interesting article released by the Associated Press last week about the improving capacity of the Iraqi army, entitled "US pleased, worried by newfound Iraqi confidence." The reporter talked with high ranking military personnel in both the American and Iraqi armies. In an interview, American officers credited the new-found confidence of the Iraqi army to its transformative performance in the battle in Basra in March, followed by offensives in Mosul and Sadr City. The emerging strength of the Iraqi army is an encouraging sign that America may soon be able to responsibly draw down its troop presence. However, a stronger and more assertive Iraqi army also creates concerns on the part of Americans. Given the weakness of Iraq's civilian institutions, the reduction in U.S. control "feeds a worry that Iraqi security forces will either set themselves up for a catastrophic failure or might even decide - at some point when the Americans have largely departed - that the country would be better off under military rule."

Also, the International Crisis Group recently released a report entitled, "Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon"
. Despite the current security improvements that Iraq is seeing, in terms of the number displaced, the refugee crisis continues to be one of the most massive in the world. The international community and the Iraqi government in particular have failed to meet their responsibilities in providing for vulnerable Iraqis. The ICG report details the serious challenges yet to be adequately addressed and recommends genuine actions that the United States, Iraq, and other members of the international community should take to meet their responsibility to the Iraqi people.

Photo Caption: Members of the Iraqi military stand in line

Friday, July 18, 2008

“We’ll keep drilling ‘til we run out of steel."

As part of EPIC's continued interest in sustainable development in Iraq, I attended a panel discussion on Dr. Reuben Brigety’s report, Humanity as a Weapon of War at the Center for American Progress. I was delighted to hear the panelist’s views, and to hear open discourse on the topic of humanitarian efforts and roles.

Shidley, Kenya, June 2007: The U.S. Armed Forces come across a settlement of 100 families near the border of Somalia. Anticipating an influx of Somali refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland, the Pentagon sends in the Navy's Seabees to help the settlement secure a source of clean water.

Five months of drilling, one quarter of a million dollars, and two failed wells later: U.S. Navy Seabees finally cease attempts to drill for water. The first attempt brought up brackish, undrinkable water, the second attempt never actually reached water. By then, only twenty of the settlement's residents remained. Given that the residents were members of a nomadic tribe, it turns out that the settlement was only temporary.

“By contrast, an underground well dug by civilian humanitarian agencies typically costs around $10,000,” reports Dr. Reuben Brigety, Director of the Sustainable Security Program at the Center for American Progress, in his new report, Humanity as a Weapon of War. The report investigates the role of the US military in humanitarian actions overseas.

Attempts by the military to reach into the humanitarian sector, such as the wells in Kenya, is a prime example of the blurred role of the Armed Forces and State Department which surrounds the debate over American foreign policy. Increasingly, the military's role in providing security goes hand in hand with development assistance.

The United States is working towards “sustainable security” as part of its long term plan for security success in countries that could potentially, or have previously, posed a threat to the United States. Security though sustainability is becoming a real part of the discourse on long-term peace building operations abroad.

"With chaos inside Somalia threatening the stability of the region and enabling the rise of extremism, using U.S. military assets to perform a humanitarian mission serves a dual purpose. It shows the face of American compassion to a skeptical population while also giving the military an eye on activity in the area. Winning ears and minds with an ear to the ground is the new American way of war.”

The Navy’s plan to drill for water in Kenya had a ring of benevolence, but in reality, resulted in utter failure. Have we witnessed a failure such as this before, and exactly what should the role of Armed Forces be in the larger context of United State’s humanitarian role overseas? Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development says that, while the USAID welcomes the logistical support of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense, the role of the Armed Forces in humanitarian actions overseas is, at most, a support role, and should remain as such.

The world has seen what happens when the United States Armed Forces suddenly acquires the broad mandate of "nation builder" without adequate preparation, experience or expertise. In 2003, EPIC Director Erik Gustafson questioned President Bush’s decision to put the Pentagon in charge of rebuilding Iraq instead of the State Department, or the United Nations who boasts “widely recognized international legitimacy in relief and reconstruction, extensive resources and expertise and a long history of working with Iraqi civil servants and NGOs.”

In the article, Gustafson argues that nation-building efforts led by the Pentagon will not help the United States or Iraq. Rather, "It will more likely become a lightning rod for Iraqi and international cynicism, fuel doubts about U.S. motives, deepen rifts with our allies, infuriate the Arab World, feed terrorism and further destabilize the Middle East."

Be it wells in Kenya, or the infrastructure of a country of 26 million [Iraq], the United States Armed Forces are not specialized in rebuilding, planning, or methods to work with local civilians to move that population towards security. Sometimes the military is the only presence in a devastated area, and the only resource available to attend to humanitarian crises, but this is a far cry from its normal function. Difficult situations can become rapidly more problematic when handled by those who are far from their designated positions.

Photo Caption: A Navy poster encouraging skilled laborers to join the Seabees as part of the war effort. Library of Congress

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The House Foreign Affairs Committee Approves a Bill to Help Iraqi Refugees

Yesterday, I watched as the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.R. 6328, a bill creating a White House coordinator for Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in the Executive Office of the President. The creation of such a high level position could strengthen America's ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

The coordinator will:
  • Develop and implement U.S. policies, coordinate federal functions, and address the protection, resettlement, and assistance needs of Iraqi refugees and displaced persons
  • Monitor the development and implementation of assistance strategies to countries in the Middle East hosting Iraqi refugees
  • ensure that the President's budget requests to Congress are sufficient to meet the needs of such persons, including providing assistance for international efforts on behalf of such persons
  • Serve as principal liaison with the government of Iraq and the international community and organizations that are assisting such persons
  • Ensure that the U.S. government will encourage refugee returns only when conditions permit safe and voluntary returns
Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and cosponsor of the bill, stressed the need for action: "Communities have been overrun by violence from all sides, uprooting families and destroying livelihoods. We have a moral obligation to make every effort to help these people, especially those who have assisted our forces and personnel in Iraq and who fear they may never be able to go home.” The bill would be a very productive step in getting the White House to publicly recognize the crisis.

We commend Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) on his leadership, and the 10 cosponsors for supporting this important measure. It may be referred to another committee before reaching the floor of the House for a vote.

Photo Caption: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman of California listens as ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida makes an opening statement during recent markup hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

NPR: U.S. Contractors Block Refugee Applications

NPR is reporting that Iraqi employees who risked their lives working for U.S. firms are now able to apply for refugee status in the United States. To be eligible, Iraqis must obtain a letter from their employer confirming that they worked for an American company. However, according to the report, "some Iraqis tell NPR that U.S. contractors in Iraq reject requests for employment verification," blocking their application for resettlement in the United States.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Campaigning for Iraq's Disabled

If you ever wonder whether one person can really change the world, Tiana Tozer has your answer. This Mercy Corps staff member was recently featured on MSNBC's Making a Difference segment.

Using a wheelchair since she was hit by a drunk driver, Tiana's positive outlook on life is inspiring others. Now she is heading to Iraq for a year to give a voice to Iraq's disabled community. According to Mercy Corps, 90 percent of disabled Iraqis live in poverty, despite this Tiana's campaign is showing that they are role models for the rest of Iraqi society on how to live together and overcome adversity.

Since 2003, Mercy Corps has invested in the capacity of people with disabilities by:
  • Supporting and training 33 disability-rights organizations and helping them form a Baghdad-based alliance to lobby the government on disability issues
  • Funding activities such as sewing workshops for deaf women, literacy classes for disabled children, and wheelchair sporting events for youth
  • Building new wheelchair-accessible parks, schools, community centers and sports complexes, and helping dozens of people with disabilities modify their private homes
"They told you that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What they failed to tell you is that it is best seen with the eyes closed. What you look like isnít important. What is important is who you are inside and the choices you are making in your life." Tiana Tozer: 1992 Paralympic silver and 1996 bronze medalist, women's wheelchair basketball.

Photo Caption: Tiana Tozer on NBC Nightly News MercyCorps>

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dan Rather: The High Price of Ransom

A recent Dan Rather Report entitled "The High Price of Ransom," details the plight of some Iraqi refugees caught in a difficult position while attempting to be admitted to the United States. HDNet, the online host for “Dan Rather Reports,” issued a press release describing Rather’s investigation: “'The High Price of Ransom' tells the story of how hundreds of refugees from Iraq who were forced to pay ransom to kidnappers are stuck in an undetermined vacuum, with faltering hopes of getting out of the Middle East. The very reason for their flight, may now be what is keeping them from gaining refugee status in the United States."

"The High Price of Ransom" is the first 26 minutes of the video.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Positive Impact of the Antiwar Movement

There is an increasing recognition in Washington of the positive impact that the antiwar movement has had since the war began in 2003. Pressure from Democrats in Congress and the threat of withdrawal pushed Iraqi leaders into action and reinforced the message that U.S. troops will only stay in Iraq if the Iraq government matches our efforts.

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Colin Kahl discusses the impact that the Democratic takeover of Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections and the rising pro-withdrawal sentiment had in Iraq. Kahl writes that, in Anbar Province, “the risk that U.S. forces would leave pushed the Sunnis to cut a deal to protect their interests while they still could.” Although political progress in Iraq is minimal, Kahl attributes the success to the prospect that the Democrats in Congress might force a withdrawal. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agrees: “The debate in Congress…has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited. The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact…in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment.”

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute agrees with that assessment. In a forum discussion I wrote about a few weeks ago, O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, also with Brookings, credited the Democratic leadership with reinforcing the notion that America’s presence in Iraq must not be taken for granted and our effort is contingent upon a matched effort by Iraq. O’Hanlon stated: “Pressure from Democrats has been important…in making sure the Iraqis get the message that our help is not to be taken for granted, there’s not a blank check, and if there is not greater Iraqi help in this mission and greater Iraqi cooperation politically working with themselves, we won’t stay indefinitely.”

The antiwar movement and pressure from Democrats in Congress to bring our troops home has helped to change the atmosphere in Iraq and bring about encouraging progress.

Photo Caption: Thousands take part in an anti-war protest. Monthly Review Foundation

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Why Obama Needs a New Plan

In our July 3rd post we wrote about the long overdue need for Senator Barack Obama and the Democrats to update their Iraq policy position. We included excerpts from two recent essays by George Packer and Fareed Zakaria.

Today the editors of the Washington Post joined the chorus: “BARACK OBAMA has taken a small but important step toward adjusting his outdated position on Iraq to the military and strategic realities of the war he may inherit.”

Of course not everyone agrees on the refinement of Obama’s Iraq plan. We received this eloquent comment from John: “…the antiwar crowd who formed the basis of Obama's successful primary coalition is pretty dismayed by what also appears to them as a cynical move and a betrayal for political gain.”

Here at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) we believe Obama’s move is not a departure from his commitment to end the war. Instead we see it as a sign that Obama is finally recognizing the inconvenient truth about Iraq. In short, removing U.S. forces from Iraq would not end the war, and if done rapidly on an arbitrary timetable, could reverse whatever gains have been made over the past year. For Obama (and McCain) to show a true commitment to ‘ending the war’, they must offer a plan for drawing down U.S. forces in a way that supports a free and secure Iraq.

During the primaries, Obama’s “rapid withdrawal” plan (or “best case scenario plan” as Samantha Power rightly put it) sounded a lot like the plan offered by Rep. John Murtha two years ago. The following is our critique of Rep. Murtha’s plan for rapid withdrawal, originally posted on December 8, 2006:

At a December 7th Capital Hill press conference, Rep. "Jack" Murtha (D-PA) said we should rapidly pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and "...redeploy to the periphery, to Kuwait, to Okinawa, and if there's a terrorist activity that affects our allies or affects the United States' national security, we can then go back in."

Rather than offering a peaceful resolution to the war, Rep. Murtha offers a hawkish "containment policy" that risks prolonging the conflict, destabilizing the region, and escalating political violence, resulting in a far bloodier U.S. military intervention down the road.

While Murtha's assessment of the U.S. military and its needs are spot on, he fails to understand what the U.S. war in Iraq has set into motion. The prospect of a Shi'a-dominated Iraq alarms regional Sunni Arab leaders and many Sunni Muslims, and that is part of what is fueling the insurgency and the recruitment of foreign jihadists. If left unresolved, prolonged sectarian violence will ignite a major civil war with regional powers taking sides (much like we saw during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war). Murtha dismisses that danger as 1) already happening, and 2) not our problem. Here's his statement:

"I'm not talking about going back in if there's civil war, because we're in a civil war right now. We're caught in between a civil war right now. "

On both counts, he is partly correct. Yes: for some Iraqi militia and insurgent groups, the country is already in a state of civil war. And yes: the U.S. should not escalate Iraq's civil war by choosing sides. But that does not mean that U.S. forces should simply pull out. Doing so before Iraq can establish its own governance and security would create a much larger, far bloodier civil war. And the resulting power vacuum would more than likely pull competing regional powers into the conflict

Like John Murtha's plan, Senator Barack Obama's vision for drawing down U.S. troops within 16 months of his inauguration (2 combat brigades per month) resonates strongly with many Americans. Yet unlike Murtha, Obama pledges to do so in a way that leaves stability behind. However, the question remains: how?

Obama's campaign website outlines a plan for ending the war in Iraq by re-balancing U.S. policy through effective diplomacy, humanitarian relief, development and peace-building. His website includes this about Iraq's humanitarian crisis:
Barack Obama believes that America has both a moral obligation and a responsibility for security that demands we confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis—more than five million Iraqis are refugees or 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 sanctuary.
In contrast, as of this date, McCain's campaign website makes no mention of Iraq's humanitarian crisis.

Committing $2 billion to address the urgent humanitarian needs of vulnerable Iraqis, including millions who have fled violence, is a good start. But to translate his vision into a reality he must go further to answer the question of "how?" Here at EPIC, we plan to challenge both candidates to do much better.

Photo Caption: Barack Obama speaks about Iraq. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Thursday, July 03, 2008

George Packer and Fareed Zakaria Offer Obama a Way Out on Iraq

Two years ago you could even hear Republicans grudgingly acknowledge that President Bush had an Iraq problem. His rhetoric was too inflexible to adapt to shifting realities in Iraq, and Americans were losing patience.

How quickly political fortunes change. Today it seems it's the Democrats who are not keeping up with shifting realities in Iraq.

In the latest New Yorker George Packer candidly explains Obama's Iraq Problem:
Obama’s plan, which was formally laid out last September, called for the remaining combat brigades to be pulled out at a brisk pace of about one per month, along with a strategic shift of resources and attention away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan. At that rate, all combat troops would be withdrawn in sixteen months. In hindsight, it was a mistake—an understandable one, given the nature of the media and of Presidential politics today—for Obama to offer such a specific timetable. In matters of foreign policy, flexibility is a President’s primary defense against surprise. At the start of 2007, no one in Baghdad would have predicted that blood-soaked neighborhoods would begin returning to life within a year. The improved conditions can be attributed, in increasing order of importance, to President Bush’s surge, the change in military strategy under General David Petraeus, the turning of Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda, the Sadr militia’s unilateral ceasefire, and the great historical luck that brought them all together at the same moment. With the level of violence down, the Iraqi government and Army have begun to show signs of functioning in less sectarian ways. These developments may be temporary or cyclical; predicting the future in Iraq has been a losing game. Indeed, it was President Bush’s folly to ignore for years the shifting realities on the ground.

...[Obama] doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reënergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia’s recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse. The question is whether Obama will publicly change course before November. So far, he has offered nothing more concrete than this: “We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.”
Syndicated columnist Fareed Zakaria concurs with Packer. In "What Obama Should Say On Iraq," he argues that Obama and the Democrats need more than just a new narrative on Iraq, they need to offer a serious policy "informed by the conditions on the ground today." Zakaria writes:
Barack Obama needs to give a speech about Iraq. Otherwise he will find himself in the unusual position of having being prescient about the war in 2002 and yet being overtaken by events in 2008.
Zakaria then proceeds to offer Obama a well-argued speech to help get him out of the corner that his campaign rhetoric has painted him into. It's a good speech, and one can only hope that Obama's speech writers and foreign policy advisers are taking note.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

U.S. Admits 1,721 Iraqi Refugees in June; Still Shy of 2008 Goal

Conflict in Iraq has forced more than 2 million Iraqis to flee their nation and over 2 million more to be displaced with Iraq. Unfortunately, the response from the U.S. government has been woefully inadequate.

The U.S. plans to allow 12,000 Iraqi refugees into the country during the 2008 Fiscal Year. The Associated Press reports that the administration admitted 1,721 Iraqi refugees in June, which is an increase from the 1,141 admitted in May. In addition to the goal of resettling 12,000 refugees, the administration is supposed to grant 5,000 Special Immigrant Visas. Normally, for a refugee to be resettled in the U.S., the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) must refer him for resettlement to the U.S. State Department before his application is processed. SIVs bypass the UN referral process because SIVs are designed for those Iraqi's who face immanent danger because of their ties to the United States coalition, including Iraqis who worked as translators and interpreters, or those with pressing medical needs.

Last year, Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Smith (R-OR) co-sponsored the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, which established the Special Immigrant Visa program. The intent of the Kennedy-Smith bill is to ensure that 5,000 Iraqis are resettled in the U.S. through the SIV program annually. According to the act, the 5,000 resettled with SIVs is in addition to the goal of 12,000 admittance set by the Bush administration. We must ensure that the administration follows the intent of the Kennedy-Smith bill, rather than including the 5,000 SIV admittance as part of the 12,000 refugee quota.

The crisis is ongoing but thanks to support from fine folks like you, we are making hard fought gains in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Making the Globe more Golden: Jolie helps Iraqi Children

An article from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), released late last week, reported that movie-star and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie, along with husband Brad Pitt, will donate over $1 million to help children affected by the Iraq humanitarian crisis. $200,000 is reserved for education programs run by the IRC in volatile areas in southern Iraq. As EPIC discussed in a blog a few weeks ago, most of the displaced children are unable to go to school and their lives are constantly surrounded by violence. Through Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s contribution, more children will be able to attend school and According to Angelina Jolie, “These educational support programs for children of conflict are the best way to help them heal.”

In late February 2008, EPIC wrote about Jolie’s commendable efforts and published an Op-Ed she wrote in the Washington Post.

Photo Caption: Jolie visits Iraqi refugees. ABC News
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