Iraq Roundup: Even Apart From Mayhem, Picture Dismal

Wednesday, April 04, 2007 at 12:27 PM

For obvious reasons, American news coverage of Iraq tends to focus on the deaths and injuries. That does give short shrift to less immediately sensational news, but contrary to the right wing spin, much of that is dismal as well.

Take the following series of reports over the past few days.

First, there's the under-reported but overwhelming story of Iraqi refugees, both internal (moving from one part of Iraq to another) and external (having left the country altogether). Here's a snippet of a report from the Gulf Daily News on the state of the refugees and their need for aid:

Bahrain and the international community were yesterday urged by a UN agency to support Iraqi refugees and the countries hosting them.

Around 1.8 million Iraqis are displaced within their own country and an estimated two million have sought refuge in nearby countries, chiefly Syria which is hosting one million and Jordan has 750,000.

The situation is described by the UN as the biggest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the 1948 crisis of Palestinian refugees.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres said that it was high time for the international community to offer support to Jordan and Syria to enable them to sustain protection to Iraqi refugees.

"While there has been a lot of public awareness about the military situation in Iraq, not enough attention has been on humanitarian issues and displacement," he told a press conference at the UN House in Manama.

"Syria and Jordan have been extremely generous in supporting Iraqi refugees, but they are paying a huge price.

... Mr. Guterres said, "There are 15,000 Palestinian refugees in Baghdad who are being targeted by the militia because they are thought to be associated with the previous regime and 600 of them have been killed."

Note that if the figure of 3.8 million total refugees is correct, that would be a whopping 14.6% of the entire Iraqi population estimated to be 26 million.

This refugee picture is elaborated in an interview with Kristele Younes from Refugees International, conducted by Radio Free Europe:

RFE/RL: What is your assessment of the situation with IDPs in Iraq?

Kristele Younes: The situation of internal displacement in Iraq is deteriorating in general. The UN estimates that there is now about 1.9 million internally displaced, including around 700,000 to 730,000 since the Samarra bombing of February 2006. In the north alone, which I visited along with a colleague last month, we estimated that there were about 160,000 internally displaced who moved there since 2003.

RFE/RL: What are the main causes for people leaving their houses? Is it just violence or more of a kind of ethnic cleansing that is going on certain parts of the country?

Younes: Certainly violence is the No. 1 reason people are leaving. Now, violence can take several forms. Some people are leaving because they are targeted because of their sectarian [affiliation]. For instance, we met with some Sunnis who had to leave [Al-Basrah], even though they were born and raised there, because they have received threats from Shi'ite militias. We also met with Christians who were prosecuted in Baghdad and had to go to the north to seek safety.

There are also people who are leaving not because of ethnic cleansing or sectarian cleansing, but also because the violence around them has just reached the point where they can't live any more. Even though they were not particularly targeted personally, their children could not go to school anymore, they could not go to the markets anymore. And so they tried to go anywhere where they could lead some sort of a normal life.

RFE/RL: Who are those internally displaced, in socioeconomic terms? The poorest? Those who did not want to leave Iraq or cannot leave it?

Younes: I think what you see with the internally displaced is that every single socioeconomic class inside Iraq is represented. You have upper middle class and middle class people, professionals -- doctors, for instance, academics, -- who are leaving Baghdad for the north where they can find jobs and where they will be able to practice their profession in safety.

But you also have, of course, lower middle class and impoverished people who are also leaving their homes because of the violence. And those indeed in general tend to be internally displaced. They cannot afford to get a passport. They cannot afford to cross an international border. And more importantly, they can't even afford to live in Syria and Jordan even if they were able to get there. So, these are the people who usually stay in Iraq. But, again, all social and economic classes are represented, and you have people displaced throughout the Iraqi society.

RFE/RL: What is the typical lifestyle of the internally displaced once they reach the Kurdish-administered areas? What do they do there? Are they able to get work? Are they able to find any housing there? When Iraqi refugees started to move into Jordan, the prices on real estate mounted. Is this the case in the Kurdish-administered areas of northern Iraq as well?

Younes: Certainly, it is extremely expensive to live in Kurdistan. Prices there are much higher than they are in Baghdad. For instance, fuel in Kurdistan is three times as high as it is in Baghdad. Most of the displaced are renting houses. In fact, less than 1 percent of the displaced in Iraq are in camps. So most of them are either staying with host families, or in public buildings, but the very vast majority is renting houses. And the cost of the rent is extremely high in Kurdish areas. Many are forced to contemplate the idea of going back or to actually go back to very dangerous areas because they simply cannot afford to live in Kurdistan any more.

We met with a Sunni family from Baghdad who had to leave because they had received death threats. And they were in Irbil, in the Kurdish area, and they were looking to go back to Baghdad because they simply could not afford life there any more. This is a type of situation that we really do not want to see happen. Most of the internally displaced are not able to find work. When they are able to find work, it's daily work. It provides no security, and it's not enough money to let them afford the cost of living. Schools are public but there are very few Arab-speaking schools in the Kurdish areas. They are only in the main towns. And even in the main towns they are not enough to cater to the entire Arab population. So really the economic situation of the displaced is very worrying.

Then there's the problem of how American forces tend to treat Iraqis -- whether important folks or ordinary folks--in the ordinary course of their lives. Which spurred this report from the AP only a few hours ago:

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Government officials and lawmakers say they are fed up with what they feel are unnecessary searches by American troops and private security contractors in the Green Zone and persuaded President Jalal Talabani to take action, his office said Tuesday.

The president, a Kurd, set up a committee to develop new security rules and then meet with U.S. officials to agree on a new relationship between American-led coalition forces and all Iraqis, not just government officials and lawmakers.

The statement gave no other details, but Shiite legislator, Bassem Sharif, who attended the session at which the committee was established, said politicians complained bitterly about being searched every time they went into the parliament or Cabinet building.

Only Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani are not searched under current practice.

An example of some complaints included a recent incident in which the U.S. military closed the Baghdad airport and wouldn't allow Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi's plane to land on a return trip from Turkey. He was forced to fly back to Ankara and spend the night.

Another incident involved the son of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the largest bloc in parliament, who was taken into U.S. custody for 12 hours in February after crossing from Iran with bodyguards, Sharif said.

After his release, Ammar al-Hakim asked, "Is this the way to deal with a national figure? This does not conform with Iraq's sovereignty."

And if important elected officials are treated like this, then ordinary people ...

Finally there's the transparent and unsuccessful attempt by John McCain to demonstrate how wonderfully safe Baghdad has become under the protection of the increased number of American troops there by virtue of "the surge." While McCain strolled Baghdad's market, and tried to portray his visit there as clear evidence that life was getting back to normal for Baghdadis, the real story is a lot less clear and a lot less positive. As reported by CBS News among many other sources:

McCain Visit Angers Some Iraqis Merchants At Oft-Bombed Market Say Heavily Guarded Tour Doesn't Reflect Reality

BAGHDAD, April 3, 2007 (CBS/AP) Iraqis in the capital said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain's account of a heavily guarded visit to a central market did not represent the current reality in Baghdad, with one calling it "propaganda."

... Leading a congressional delegation to Baghdad's oldest market over the weekend, Sen. McCain praised the safety of the city since the American troop surge, reports Martin Seemungal for CBS News.

But according to someone who was actually with the delegation, that sense of security required a massive military operation: dozens of U.S soldiers, snipers, and helicopters hovering overhead.

The shopkeepers were back Monday, adds Seemungal, but they confirmed that Sen. McCain's delegation could never have come here without heavy security.

McCain, a Republican presidential hopeful who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he was "cautiously optimistic" after riding with other members of a Republican congressional delegation from Baghdad's airport Sunday in armored vehicles under heavy guard to visit Shorja.

The market has been hit by bombings including a February attack that killed 137 people. The delegation said the trips were proof that security was improving in the capital.

... The congressmen, who wore body armor during their hour-long shopping excursion at the Shorja market, said they were touched by the resilience and warmth of the Iraqi people, some of whom would not take money for their souvenirs.

The delegation was accompanied by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and followed his lead in taking off their helmets as they bought souvenirs and drank tea.

... Karim Abdullah, a 37-year-old textile merchant, said the congressmen were kept under tight security and accompanied by dozens of U.S. troops.

"They were laughing and talking to people as if there was nothing going on in this country or at least they were pretending that they were tourists and were visiting the city's old market and buying souvenirs," he said. "To achieve this, they sealed off the area, put themselves in flak jackets and walked in the middle of tens of armed American soldiers."

But Abdullah applauded the congressmen for venturing out of the heavily guarded Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies as well as Iraqi government offices.

"Although these U.S. officials were using this visit for their propaganda to tell the Americans 'we are gaining progress here, don't worry,' it left a kind of good impression with some of us," he said. "They are at least better than Iraqi officials who never venture out their Green Zone to talk to normal people and see their problems. I hope that this visit will encourage Iraqi officials to leave their fortified houses inside the Green Zone."

My understanding is that a full company of U.S. troops guarded the entourage, and God knows how many swept through the area before the entourage arrived. Now figure out how many public areas there are likely to be in Central Iraq, and do the math.

Surge? Or drip?


Funny, and since the "rightwing" news indicates that this "displacement" is a success in the war on Iraqi terrorism!

Notice that a purported one millions are seeking aid and comfort in Syria -- a Ba'athist dictatorship? Why are they "displaced?" No homes? No property? No family in Iraq? No love lost between other Iraqis and these border crossing (fleeing) "refugees?"

Why not complain that Republicans and this administration are late in turning Iraq into a garden paradise; similar to how it was when Sumer had its capitol there?

Why not complain about Afghani opium and hemp? Too busy cleaning your bongs? Not up to dropping bombs on Afghani peasants, but would whine and complain about the drugs, anyway? Waiting for Bush to attack drugs there so you can find something to moan about that -- poor downtrodden Taliban; forced to grow drugs to supply their rocket launchers and IEDs?

Hey! Maybe you can complain that our soldiers can't drink their bath water? Haliburton is probably growing the drugs with the potable water meant to wash clothing, in a plot between Bush and the Taliban/al Qaeda!

That's the ticket! Goes right along with the cooperation between Osama and Bush to destroy the world trade center and so that Osama could be attacked and forced into hiding!

Yeah ... you all and Rosie ... smart ... fascile ... and paranoid delusionals.