Friday, August 06, 2010

Disengagement from conflict--not from Iraq

As the United States prepares for a reduction in our military forces in Iraq, we cannot abandon the people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the seven-year American occupation. As President Obama has emphasized, the United States has a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people. Such were the themes of the recent hearing of the Helsinki Commission on Capitol Hill called "No Way Home, No Way to Escape: The Plight of Iraqi Refugees and Our Iraqi Allies."

Congressman Alcee Hastings emphasized that the current Iraqi refugee crisis is the largest displacement in the Middle East since 1948. Among many hardships faced by refugees, Hastings noted that children are particularly at risk. Some haven’t attended school in over four. They represent the country’s future, and without education, they are more vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups, he said.

Ambassador L. Craig Johnstone of Refugees International said that in his conversations with Iraqi refugees, most named their children’s education as their top priority. Johnstone further emphasized it is largely the Iraqi middle class that is now living in squatter settlements as refugees. These refugees represent the best and the brightest of Iraqi society, and they will be able to contribute a great deal whether they return to Iraq or resettle in the United States.

"While our military may be drawing down, our concern for and our commitment to the humanitarian and the protection needs of displaced Iraqis will remain robust," said Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration at the State Department. At $400 million, funding for Iraq represents a quarter of the State’s worldwide refugee budget. While Schwartz has urged other donor countries to increase their funding, he said that the U.S. can expect to provide the "lion’s share" of funding. Ambassador Johnstone similarly called on the United States to provide 50% of the UN appeal.

Refugees and internally displaced persons are not the only Iraqis who have been endangered by our military operations there. Between 40,000 and 120,000 Iraqis risked their lives alongside Americans as interpreters, engineers, and advisors – work that left them targets for terrorist groups. While special immigrant visas (SIVs) expedite the process through which they can resettle in the United States, the process can still take up to a year – too long for Iraqis in urgent need of escape – and is more difficult to navigate than the regular refugee program. As a result, only 2,100 of the allotted 15,000 SIVs have been claimed.

Kirk Johnson of the List Project, which assists Iraqi allies in navigating the refugee resettlement process, spoke to the urgency of the situation. There are no serious contingency plans to evacuate our Iraqi allies as the U.S. military withdraws – but there need to be, he said. There is precedent for such an evacuation: Iraqi Kurds were airlifted to Guam in 1996. Schwartz said that his bureau was not currently considering such contingency plans but would do so.

Several of the speakers drew on past American successes and failures to protect those who worked with us. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) spoke regretfully about the fact that we "walked away" from Koreans who had helped our soldiers, and Ambassador Johnstone – who left the Foreign Service to help our Vietnamese allies to safety – reflected that the United States didn’t plan adequately for the fall of Saigon, and we seem poised to make the same mistake in Iraq.

As Ambassador Johnstone reflected, "The important message, I think, for us today, is as we disengage from this conflict, we cannot disengage from our humanitarian obligations." America must live up to our values as a nation that protects its friends. Although the U.S. relationship with Iraq is changing, our responsibilities to the Iraqi people are ongoing.

This post was written by Anna Mysliwiec.

Monday, July 12, 2010

IDPs in Iraq Still Waiting for Solutions

Seven years of conflict, not to mention decades of violence under Saddam Hussein, have left more than 2.8 million Iraqis displaced inside Iraq but far from home. Like refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) have lost their homes, property, and livelihoods. They’re often separated from their families and they may face violence in their host communities. Unlike refugees, however, they are not formally protected under international law, and post-conflict governments often lack the capacity to protect them.

Recently, the Brookings Institution released a report called Improving the US Response to Internal Displacement. In a panel discussion on June 30, the reports' authors, Department of State and USAID administrators, and leading experts came together to discuss the need for a more comprehensive response to the needs of internally displaced persons around the globe. IDPs need assistance not just at the emergency stage, but also when dealing with protracted displacement, said report co-author Dawn Calabia. Calabia further stressed that no IDP situation has ever been solved by humanitarian assistance alone; we also need hard political solutions.

Nowhere is the need for a comprehensive strategy more evident than in Iraq. With the international response to IDPs replete with "gaps rather than overlaps," as Calabia said, a decisive solution to the Iraqi internal displacement crisis has long eluded Iraqi, American, and international actors alike. The panelists emphasized that Iraqi government policy has inadequately addressed the reintegration and return of IDPs. Many Iraqi IDPs are stuck in informal squatter settlements and can't access services from their government because they lack proper documentation.

On the American side, the huge disparity in funding between U.S. military and civilian efforts in Iraq hasn't helped. While the Defense Department requested $533.7 billion for fiscal year 2010, the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies requested only $51.7 billion. According to Allison Stanger's One Nation under Contract, the fact that the Pentagon has shouldered so much of the physical reconstruction of Iraq has hindered development – as has the top-down manner in which it disbursed funds to American contractors instead of Iraqis. As a result, civilian efforts through agencies like USAID are chronically understaffed and underfunded.

As President Obama has said, the United States has a "moral responsibility" to assist Iraq's displaced. Like he acknowledged, displaced Iraqis are "a living consequence of this war" and "they must become a part of Iraq's reconciliation and recovery." Part of this means supporting the Iraqi government with reintegrating those displaced who wish to return to their homes. One step the Iraqi government has taken is the establishment of the Commission for the Resolution of Real Property Disputes (CRRPD), which is tasked with settling land and property disputes for people displaced during Saddam Hussein's regime.

In an earlier report called Resolving Iraqi Displacement, Brookings noted that long-term development is key to solving the IDP crisis because it will create the housing, jobs, and security necessary to rebuild communities and make return realistic and appealing. Iraq must integrate internally displaced persons into its plans for national reconciliation and economic development if return is to ever be a viable option.

What is the United States' role? The Brookings reports suggest that the United States can be most effective by providing development assistance and by working with the Iraqi government to create political solutions. The latter approach has already met with some success. In 2009, the State Department and the NSC negotiated the US-Iraq Joint Statement on Iraqi Refugees in which the Iraqi government promised a 250 percent budget increase for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration. Further, the administration has tasked two senior officials to work with the Iraqi government on implementing strategies that would assist and protect displaced persons.

What lessons can we learn from internal displacement in Iraq? First of all, more robust funding for civilian efforts will be critical to the recovery of IDPs in Iraq and elsewhere. When fully funded, American development assistance has the capacity to do immense good in the world. Iraq, for its part, can make important progress in national reconciliation and peacebuilding by creating a long-term strategy for reintegrating IDPs into their communities. IDPs are Iraqis too, after all, and their future will be critical to the future of the country.

This post was written by Anna Mysliwiec.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No Relief from Sweltering Heat in Iraq

While Iraq’s politicians attempt to knit together a coalition and a new government, everyday Iraqis are left coping with even more fundamental problems: severe shortages in electricity and water. Combined with political limbo and violence, surging temperatures are resulting in a torrid summer in Iraq.

Protests in Basra over the Iraqi government’s failure to provide the population with consistent electricity turned violent when police fired into the crowd on June 20. The crowd had been demanding the resignation of electricity minister. After revolts later spread to Nasiriya, Karbala, Baquba, and Ramadi, electricity minister Karim Wahid al-Aboudi resigned last Monday.

Basra, like most Iraqi provinces, receives about five hours of electricity on the best days and only a single hour on the worst. In recent weeks, electricity has been even more scarce, leaving most Iraqis to swelter in temperatures as high as 120 degrees. Even hospitals, though connected to an emergency power grid, have had power failures during recent weeks forcing some to relocate patients outdoors for the night.

Despite the electricity minister’s resignation, the crisis is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future. Although he promised that he would "give priority to the electricity sector in the next government," President Nouri al-Maliki also stated that it will be two years until the national grid can provide reliable electricity to the entire country. Now, many families must compensate by buying electricity from privately-owned neighborhood generators, which can cost between $50 and $100 a month.

Electricity is not the only necessity in short supply; persistent water shortages both dehydrate Iraqi civilians and undermine their faith in their government’s ability to deliver basic services. Twenty-five percent of Iraqis do not have access to safe drinking water. As a result, citizens have called on the government to devote more of its budget to revitalize water infrastructure and to implement sustainable management policy. The Red Cross and other NGOs truck thousands of gallons of water to neighborhoods that the dilapidated pipe system doesn’t reach.

Like the Red Cross, other actors have stepped in to fill the gap in basic services. Since the onset of the war, a vibrant Iraqi NGO sector has arisen that provides access to water and other basic services. The Women and the Environment Organization, founded by Iraqi academics, trains women in the Iraqi marshlands to make the most of what natural resources are available through conservation and sanitation efforts. In another project, Muslim Peacemaker Teams are supplying water filtration systems to schools and hospitals because sewage still leaks into the existing water infrastructure.

What policy wonks would call a deficiency in state capacity--Iraq just landed at #8 on Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index--has concrete repercussions for a hot, thirsty population. While non-governmental efforts are invaluable, they cannot replace national infrastructure that will ensure Iraqis a stable, secure quality of life. When the new government is eventually seated, it must deliver on its promises and meet the basic needs of its populace.

This post was written by Anna Mysliwiec.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Woman's Right to Health Violated in Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan has gained a reputation as an emerging democracy in the Middle East, but a major human rights violation persists without little action from the government: the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). A new report by Human Rights Watch details the practice, which is defined by the World Health Organization as "the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons." According to a study by the Iraqi NGO WADI, 72 percent of Kurdish women over the age of fourteen have been circumcised, most of them when they were between 3 and 12 years old.

Fear and pain is what Kurdish women emphasized about their experiences with FGM. Held down by their female relatives, and cut without their consent, women are given no anesthetic and the same razor blade is used for multiple procedures. The cutting can cause heavy bleeding and infection and have lifelong health consequences that include pain, infertility, and the loss of sexual pleasure. In short, "FGM violates women's and children's rights, including their rights to life, health, and bodily integrity," said lead researcher Nadya Khalife.

FGM is defended as linking Kurds to their cultural identity. While many senior Islamic clerics have publicly opposed it, many women believe that it is spiritually beneficial. Mothers, aunts, and other female relatives hope it will allow their daughters to make good marriages.

The government of Kurdistan has been progressive in addressing many forms of violence against women, but has yet to ban FGM. A draft law banning FGM was introduced in Parliament in 2008 only to be abandoned because the occurrence of FGM was deemed rare.

HRW proposes a comprehensive approach to eradicating FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan, including both policy measures and awareness-raising efforts. The Kurdistan Regional Government must take the lead by passing strong legislation to ban the procedure, provide appropriate penalties for those responsible, and support women who have been hurt by it.

While a ban is important, it must be supplemented by public health campaigns. To criminalize the procedure is to risk sending it underground, making it even more dangerous. Kurdish authorities must thus address the underlying factors that make women choose the procedure for their daughters, especially the lack of information on its harmful effects. Religious and community leaders must set an example and affirm their commitments to ending FGM.

So far, the Kurdish authorities’ reaction to the report has been to downplay the problem of FGM. During their research, WADI was even told by a minister that their "work was ruining the reputation of Kurdistan." Areyan Rauf, a governmental human rights officer, stated that "Female circumcision isn't such a pressing matter for us because there are only one or two cases that we discover a year." Similarly, Mariwan Naqshbandi, spokesman for the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, suggested that the study was based on rumors. "Circumcision exists as an isolated occurrence, rather than as a phenomenon in Kurdistan," he said.

If the Kurdish government is serious about its commitment to human rights and women’s rights, it must take concrete steps to address the high incidence of FGM and its negative consequences for women. Kurdish women and children have a right to health and autonomy over their bodies, and those rights are being violated by the persistence of female genital mutilation.

This post was written by Anna Mysliwiec.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Continuing Saga Of The Candidate Banning In Iraq

The story of the Iraqi Accountability and Justice and Election Commissions’ banning of 500 candidates from the March 2010 voting for alleged Baathist ties has taken a few new turns. First, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has finally come out in favor of the ban. He said that the decision of the Accountability and Justice Commission should be adhered to. He also commented that the process should not be politicized, which ignores the fact that the Commission members have used it as a partisan tool since its inception in 2003, and that its head, Ali al-Lami, is running as a candidate for the Iraqi National Alliance. Second, the Election Commission is debating whether just the 400 politicians are barred from participating in the balloting or all their parties as well. As Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs points out, there is no legal basis in the constitution or election law that mentions blocking entire parties from running. Of course, the Accountability and Justice Commission’s members haven’t even been appointed by parliament, but everyone is going along with their decisions, so legality may not matter in this situation. Third, a document has emerged that allegedly shows that Saleh al-Mutlaq, the head of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front and the most prominent politician banned, had contact with Iraqi intelligence in 2002. This was supposedly used in the Accountability and Justice Commission’s ruling against him. There is no reporting on whether the document is real or not, and again, given the circumstances, may not matter. Fourth, Mutlaq and all those banned can appeal their cases to a 7-member board of judges that was just created a few days ago. There is a concern that they may not be able to go through all the cases before the March 2010 balloting however, which may exclude candidates even if they are ultimately found innocent. Finally, there is news that the Accountability and Justice Commission may not be finished and could demand that a total of 1,200 candidates be blocked from running.

It was hoped that the 2010 parliamentary vote would be a continuation of the 2009 provincial elections where nationalist parties did much better than ethnosectarian ones, and Sunnis came out in high numbers. This in turn, would usher in a new wave of politicians to replace a group of lawmakers that have achieved very little in their four years in office, and are very unpopular as a result. The decisions of the Accountability and Justice and Election Commissions however have not only marked a return to sectarian politics, but also threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the 2010 balloting, along with bringing into question the legality of the entire Iraqi political process. Unless some institution challenges the chicanery going on, this fiasco will only continue, and could get worse.


AK News, “Electoral commission discusses the issue of excluded entities and candidates,” 1/17/10

Roads To Iraq, “Three Sunni candidates for the presidency, Zebari to the Vice-President,” 1/17/10

Sly, Liz, “Iraqi prime minister backs ban on 500 election candidates,” Los Angeles, 1/17/10

Visser, Reidar, “The Bloc That Has No De-Baathification Worries,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 1/17/10
- “Constitutional Disintegration (Part III): The IHEC Is Making Up the Law,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 1/15/10

Monday, January 11, 2010

Iraq Could Become Game Changer In OPEC

In mid-December 2009 the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held its annual meeting in Angola. Besides agreeing to keep oil prices at their current level of between $70-$80 a barrel, Iraq was the other hot topic of debate.

After Iraq completed its second bidding round on its oil fields earlier in the month, Iraq Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani has been claiming that Iraq could reach 12 million barrels a day in capacity. That would rival Saudi Arabia, which currently has the largest capacity and is the largest oil producer in the world. The Oil Minister came into the OPEC conference claiming that Iraq has been denied its fair share of oil output in the past because of wars and international sanctions. He warned that was about to end, and that OPEC should reconsider how it calculates its quotas by taking into account a country’s development needs. He said that he expected some changes by 2011.

If Iraq does reach its potential, it has the ability to drastically affect the petroleum organization. Iraq has been exempt from OPEC’s quotas since it invaded Kuwait in 1990. Now it wants to export as much as it can because it desperately needs the money to rebuild. That could flood the market and undermine OPEC’s control over prices. Given this, Iraq could force compromises on quotas, ignore them, or leave OPEC altogether. It could also challenge the group’s leader, Saudi Arabia, which has given Iraq the cold shoulder since the U.S. invasion because it fears Shiite rule and Iran’s influence.

This could be a huge step in Iraq returning to the international stage. Baghdad was once a leading capital in the Arab world, but after 2003, Iraq was so caught up in internal divisions and civil war that it lost its place. Not only that, but all of the regional players have become involved in Iraqi politics, mostly to the detriment of the country. Iraq’s new oil deals, if successful, could give the nation the leverage it needs to once again be a player in the Middle East, but that’s still a big if as its petroleum industry has some massive hurdles to overcome before it can produce as much as the Oil Minister wants it to. It is a change though to talk about Iraq influencing others rather than it being the other way around as has been the norm since the overthrow of Saddam.


Agence France Presse, “No More Gestures To Saudi Arabia – Iraqi PM Maliki,” 5/28/09

Amies, Nick, “Iraq oil auctions cause concerns over stability in Gulf hierarchy,” Deutsche Welle, 12/23/09

Blas, Javier, “Iraq to challenge Opec on ‘fair share’ of output,” Financial Times, 12/22/09

Friday, January 08, 2010

What Do The New Oil Deals Mean for The Kurds?

In mid-December 2009 the Iraqi Oil Ministry carried out its second round of bidding on oil fields by international companies. Winning offers were made on seven of the ten fields up for auction. Afterward Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani said Iraq could reach eleven million barrels a day in capacity in six years, which could make it one of the largest producers in the world. This may turn out to be a major setback for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and its own petroleum policy.

Since 2003 the KRG has been hoping that its oil reserves would give it greater autonomy, and perhaps eventually independence. They signed their first oil deal with a Turkish company in January 2003, and then finalized over twenty others in the following years. None of these went through the Oil Ministry. Most of these deals were for exploration, but with Iraq’s oil production at below pre-invasion levels, Kurdistan believed that Baghdad would eventually have to accept their oil policy and allow them to export. The KRG also attempted to foster closer ties with Turkey and Europe, offering to export oil directly to the former, and trying to get involved with the proposed Nabucco natural gas pipeline to the latter. If these deals succeeded than Kurdistan would be connected to the international energy trade, could put more pressure on Baghdad to accept its energy policy, and gain greater autonomy from the central government. Some believed that this would give the Kurds the self-sustainability and influence they would need to declare independence sometime in the future.

All of these goals are now in jeopardy because of the Oil Ministry’s second bidding round. With international companies finally agreeing to Baghdad’s terms, and Iraq’s hopes of becoming one of the largest oil exporters in the world, there is no reason for the central government to give into the Kurds’ demands. The Oil Ministry has always vigorously protested the Kurds’ actions, and blacklisted any petroleum corporations that do business with them, leaving only small businesses investing there. They and the KRG still hope that Baghdad will eventually allow them to export because no government will turn down money, but that’s becoming less and less likely now. In fact, the Kurds may be the biggest losers if Iraq’s oil potential is finally tapped.


AK News, “Iraq’s oil and gas assets are shared: Barzani,” 11/11/09

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09
- “Oil For Soil: Toward A Grand Bargain On Iraq And The Kurds,” 10/28/08

Lando, Ben, “In the theater of oil, the politics of Iraq,” Iraq Oil Report, 12/17/09

Yackley, Ayla Jean, “Iraq’s new oil deals seen weakening Kurds’ hand,” Reuters, 12/17/09
- “UPDATE 2-Kurds say Iraqi oilfield auction is being rushed,” Reuters, 12/10/09
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