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Dec 30th, 2008


An exodus of more than 2 million Iraqis is reshaping the Middle East — with ominous implications for the region.


Part 2 of 3:

U.S. Slow to Meet Needs, Refugees Say

Matthew Hay Brown's picture
By Matthew Hay Brown
Baltimore Sun
Dec. 29, 2008


DOUMA, Syria — Mustafa Hamad Rassoul doesn’t see how his family can survive. …

“America always talks about human rights,” he says while waiting at the U.N. refugee registration center in this city outside Damascus. “They come and say they are liberating us. Let them find a place where I can live.”

The demand echoes around the world. The United States has admitted more than 16,000 Iraqi refugees in the past two years … and expects to more than double that number by the end of 2009. The nearly $570 million the United States has spent since the beginning of 2007 to improve conditions for displaced Iraqis, both in Iraq and abroad, has surpassed the contributions of the rest of the world combined.

Critics say it is not enough.

“The United States is responsible for this mess, frankly,” says Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that advises governments on conflict resolution. “It certainly was responsible for allowing the chaos that enveloped Iraq. It should therefore bear the responsibilities.”

More than 2 million Iraqis have fled the kidnappings, car bombings and killings that have racked their homeland since the U.S.-led invasion almost six years ago. Most remain in Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries, where they are drawing down their savings while burdening local services.

Officials on all sides warn of a population whose growing desperation could threaten stability in the region and beyond.

A coalition of advocates, including Refugees International, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, is calling on the United States to nearly triple the money it spends on the displaced Iraqis while allowing the entry of as many as 105,000 in 2009 — a sevenfold increase over current admissions. …

President George W. Bush did not mention the crisis in public until March of this year, when he said after a meeting with King Abdullah II that the Jordanian monarch had “pointed out something which I knew, but I wasn’t exactly sure how it was affecting his country, that there are roughly three-quarters of a million Iraqi citizens who have moved to Jordan.”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin has presided over hearings on the crisis as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission. “I think the United States is trying to keep this out of the limelight,” the Maryland Democrat says. “They’re trying to show positive developments in Iraq, and they know that if they highlight the people who are dislocated refugees, that’s an issue that they don’t know how to deal with.” …

The coalition of advocates is calling on the United States to increase its support for Iraqis in the region to $1.35 billion in 2009 while admitting 105,500 Iraqis for resettlement. …

Denis Halliday, a former U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, has been a vocal critic not only of the war but of U.S. policy toward Iraq dating to the U.N. embargo from 1991 to 2003 — he was the first U.N. official to track Iraqis killed by U.S. and British fliers patrolling the no-fly zones between the first and second Iraq wars. He says the United States must take “full responsibility for what’s happened to this country.”

“The U.S. needs to pay, in my view, massive compensation to this country,” he says. “And much of that, if paid up now in advance and quickly as possible, could be used to rehabilitate the conditions and the needs and the services to bring people back into the country. …

Matthew Hay Brown is the Pulitzer Center World Affairs Journalism Fellow at the International Center for Journalists. Brown is a Washington correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. He has reported in English and Spanish from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East; he has written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, and other newspapers. Brown was a member of the team that won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting. He holds a master’s degree with honors from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.


Related reports

Challenges of forced displacement within Iraq 

Report on Internal Displacement in Iraq 
Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC)



Scenic Pakistani Valley Falls to Taliban Militants

Image: Soldier guards suspected militants
A Pakistani soldier guards suspected militants in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, Thursday Dec. 4, 2008. (Photo credit: Sherin Zada / AP)

Dec. 29, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.

The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive. …

The Taliban activity in northwest Pakistan also comes as the country shifts forces east to the Indian border because of tensions over last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, potentially giving insurgents more space to maneuver along the Afghan frontier.

Too dangerous for journalists

Militants began preying on Swat’s lush mountain ranges about two years ago, and it is now too dangerous for foreign and Pakistani journalists to visit. Interviews with residents, lawmakers and officials who have fled the region paint a dire picture.

A suicide blast killed 40 people Sunday at a polling station in Buner, an area bordering Swat that had been relatively peaceful. The attack underscored fears that even so-called “settled” regions presumptively under government control are increasingly unsafe.

The 3,500-square-mile Swat Valley lies less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad. …

Officials estimate that up to a third of Swat’s 1.5 million people have left the area. Salah-ud-Din, who oversees relief efforts in Swat for the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimated that 80 percent of the valley is now under Taliban control.

Swat’s militants are led by Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric who rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islamic law. His appeal tapped into widespread frustration with the area’s inefficient judicial system. …

Villages are ruled by fear

In some places, just a handful of insurgents can control a village. They rule by fear: beheading government sympathizers, blowing up bridges and demanding women wear all-encompassing burqas.

They have also set up a parallel administration with courts, taxes, patrols and checkpoints, according to lawmakers and officials. And they are suspected of burning scores of girls’ schools. …

The Swat insurgency also includes Afghan and other fighters from outside the valley, security officials said.

Troops being shifted to India border

Any movement of Pakistani troops from the Swat Valley and tribal areas to the Indian border will concern the United States and other Western countries, which want Pakistan to focus on the al-Qaida threat near Afghanistan.

On Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said thousands of troops were being shifted toward the border with India, which blames Pakistani militants for terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month that killed 164 people. But there has been no sign yet of a major buildup near India.

“The terrorists’ aim in Mumbai was precisely this — to get the Pakistani army to withdraw from the western border and mount operations on the east,” said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author who has written extensively about militancy in the region. …


1/19/09 Update

Pakistani Taliban blow up schools in Swat (Reuters, Jan. 19, 2009) — Pakistani Taliban insurgents blew up four schools in the northwestern Swat region Monday hours after a cabinet minister vowed that the government would reopen schools in the violence-plagued valley. … Residents say the militants are now virtually in complete control of the valley, which is 80 miles northwest of Islamabad and not on the Afghan border. … Full story

4 Responses to “Exodus: Iraqi Refugees Head for US”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Countdown to Iraqi Elections Says:

    […] Related report: The Iraqi Exodus […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties Says:

    […] Exodus: Iraqi Refugees Head for US […]

  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Enforcing Immigration Law Says:

    […] Exodus: Iraqi Refugees Head for U.S. (Dec. 30, 2008) […]

  4. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Christians Persecuted in Iraq Says:

    […] Exodus: Iraqi Refugees Head for US […]

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