Saturday, April 04, 2009


Starting with the topic of Iraq refugees, Fahed Khamas has been expelled.  Alsumaria reports Switzerland expelled him yesterday and notes "he used to work as an Iraqi interpreter with the US military in Baghdad" and he stated elements in Iraq had made threats on his life.  Meanwhile Assyrian International News Agency reports, "The International Federation of Iraqi Refugees has called a protest on 16-17 April in Geneva about the plight of Iraqi refugees. It says: The situation of the Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Europe is a tragedy. Many thousands of Iraqi refugees have resorted to begging, prostitution, selling their internal organs to avoid destitution."  At the center-right Brookings Institution, Roberta Cohen contributes a lengthy article on Iraqi refugees (here for HTML intro, here for PFD format article in full) entitled "Iraq's Displaced: Where to Turn?" Cohen opens by sketching out how refugees were an Iraq 'industry' when Saddam Hussein was in power but the US war on Iraq "far from resolving the problem, however, made it worse. It catapulted the country into a near civil war between Shi'a, who had largely been excluded by Saddam Hussein's regime, and Sunnis who until then had dominated the government."  Combining external refugees (2.7 million) with internal ones (2 million), Cohen notes that "4.7 million people out of a total population of 27 million -- remained displaced."  While their numbers have increased, the sympathy for them throughout the world appears to have decreased and Cohen postulates that this is due to the fact that their displacement (due to the Iraq War) is "seen as a problem largely of the United States' making and one that the United States should therefore 'fix'." It's felt, she continues, that the US and the oil-rich government in Iraq should be footing the bill for host countries such as Jordan and Syria. "Even though Iraq's budget surplus from oil revenues is projected to be $79 billion by the end of 2008," Cohen writes, "the Shi'a-dominated government of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has delivered only minimal amounts of funding to neighboring states for the refugees.  Some believe it is because many of the refugees are Sunni and Christian or because the refugees humiliated the government by departing. Still others argue that support for the refugees will discourage their returning home.  Nor has the government been forthcoming with support for its internally displaced population, again dampening other countries' willingness to contribute." The post-9/11 world is noted by Cohen.  Tuesday Senator Bob Casey Jr. chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on "The Return and Resettlement of Displaced Iraqis" and one of the witnesses appearing before the subcommittee was Ellen Laipson of the Henry L. Stimson Center who noted that the 'security' measures post-9/11 were harming Iraqi refugees.  Cohen notes the "intense screening" refugees have to go through from the US Department of Homeland Security and that the number of Iraqi refugees the US accepted while Saddam Hussein was Iraq's president was much greater than the number the US has currently accepted.  Cohen notes the stereotypes of Iraqi refugees which include that, struggling for cash, they "could easily fall prey to militant groups" and how those stereotypes harm their attempts at garnering asylum.  These stereotypes are re-enforced (I'm saying this, Cohen touches on it but doesn't state it -- see page 314) when those attempting to help refugees make the case that, if you don't, there will be "security consequences."  Cohen quotes Brookings' Elizabeth Ferris arguing that if aid is not provided "there is a very real danger that political actors will seek to fill the gap."  Cohen notes that the bulk of Iraqi refugees are not the perpetrators of violence but refugees because they have been targeted with violence.
Cohen notes countries neighboring Iraq already had taken in Palestinian refugees and there were concerns re: large influxes of refugees as to cohesive societies.  Palestinian refugees from Iraq suffer, Cohen argues, because neighboring countries already which might take them in already have a large Palestinian refugee population with Jordan listed as having 70%.
The claims that these refugees are 'temporary' and will soon be returning is explored by Cohen who notes the small number of returnees to Iraq and cites the UNHCR for explaining that those who did return did so "because their resources or visas ran out in Syria and Jordan."  Cohen notes the 'guest'-like status of refugees in Syria and Jordan where they do not "have a clear legal status".  Neither Syria nor Jordan signed onto 1951's Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees so they do not recognize this agreement popularly known as the "Refugee Convention" which requires rights such as the right to work.  The agreement also recognizes the rights of refugee children to education and Syria does have free access but the bulk of Iraqi children are not enrolled.  Jordan officially allows all Iraqi children to attend public schools; however, 1/5 of the Iraqi refugee children is the number enrolled.  In both countries, they also have more medical needs than are being met. Not noted in the report is that having 'guest' status means a number of refugee children may not be enrolled for the reason that the parents are attempting to stay off the grid -- especially important in Syria where you are required to leave every six months and re-enter the country.  Staying off the grid allows them to avoid that.  (PDF format warning, click here for Bassem Mroue's AP article on this six month policy at Refugees International.)  Cohen notes how the economies in Syria and Jordan (mirroring the economices worldwide) have begun to slide and there is a growing hostility to the refugees in both countries where they are [unfairly] blamed for the economy.  She notes that the UNHCR maintains their request that neither Syria or Jordan forcibly deport any Iraqi refugees.
Cohen documents the US government's refusal to take responsibility for the Iraqi refugee crisis such as the State Dept's Ellen Sauerbrey telling Congress in 2007 that the situation was a "'very top priority' for the United States, but [she] expressed little urgency about expediting refugee resettlement.  As former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton explained it, sectarian violence, not American actions, created the refugee problem so it was therefore not the United States' responsibility" and Cohen quotes Bolton's pompous comments, "Our obligation . . . was to give them new institutions and provide security.  We have fulfilled that obligation.  I don't think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war."  Bolton -- and this is me, not Cohen -- should have been required to explain how the "sectarian violence" he credits for creating the refugee crisis came about because the US seeded and grew it.  Back to Cohen.  She notes fiscal year 2006 saw the US admit a paltry 202 Iraqi refugees, while in 2007 the figure rose to the still tiny 1,608.  Cohen doesn't note it but neither of those figures met the target goal the administration had itself set for admittance of Iraqi refugees.  Fiscaly year 2008 saw 12,000 Iraqi refuees admitted. While the US does grant refugee status to those admitted and Syria and Jordan do not, note the difference in numbers with Jordan and Syria both having over 750,000 each by the most conservative estimate (that's me, not Cohen).  Cohen notes that Syria and Jordan are said to need $2.6 billion in aid for their refugees but that the US in 2008 was offering a meager $95.4 million. [Me, under Barack, it should be noted, that figure is the meager $150 million and that's for the Iraqi refugee crisis period -- not just for Syria and Jordan -- neither of whom will directly receive any funds from the US.].  Cohen contrasts that meager $95.4 million with the $70 billion the Congress granted for the US military effort in Iraq for fiscal year 2008.  Cohen notes that al-Malikis government gave $25 billion to neighboring states towards the costs of sheltering Iraqi refugees.  (That is a shameful figure.) She tosses out that the Bully Boy Bush administration might have been less than eager to help Iraqi refugees due to the fact that doing so might be seen as admission of the failures of the Iraq War to create "peace and stability in Iraq" and she notes Barack Obama, campaigning for president, promised an increase to $2 billion in aid for the Iraqi refugees.  (In the words of Diana Ross, "I'm still waiting . . . I'm waiting . . . Ooooh, still waiting . . . Oh, I'm a fool . . . to keep waiting . . . for you . . .")
Cohen then turns to the issue of the internally displaced and notes "radical Sunni and Shi'a militias who drove the 2006-07 sectarian violence were tired to political parties, police and army units.  The Ministry of the Interior is still widely reported to be infiltrated by Shi'a militias, which assaulted and expelled people from their homes, sometimes in police uniforms.  In such a political environment, it is not surprising that the government has failed to exhibit the will, resources or skills to deal with the needs of the displaced.  In the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, it is not unusual to find staff that sees the displaced only from the perspective of their own ethnic or religious group." Cohen observes that when displaced, Sunnis and Shi'ites tend to relocate to an area where their sect is dominant while Iraqi Christians flee "to parts of Ninewah province and Kurds to the northern Kurdish areas." A large percentage (40%) state they do not intend to return to their homes. As with external refugees, Iraq's internal refugees "face extreme hardship, many with urgent needs for shelter, food, medicine, clean water, employment and basic security."  Cohen observes, "Thus far, the national government has not demonstrated that it has the skills, resources, or political will to take care of its displaced population or provide the security, access to basic services, and livelihoods needed for the return of large numbers to their homes."  Cohen notes that while the government provides no assistance "radical sectarian Sunni and Shi'a groups" rush to fill the void. Robert Cohen offers several proposals for helping both the external and internal refugees and you can read her report for that (and we may or may not note them next week).
Sahar S. Gabriel is an Iraqi media worker for the New York Times who was granted refugee status in the US.  She (at the paper's Baghdad Bureau) reports on her initial impressions of the US:
After spending 21 hours waiting in airports and 13 hours in flying I arrived at the windy city of Detroit, Michigan.           
It is raining, always a good sign to me. My sister and I put on our gloves and jackets as we get off the plane. While I follow the baggage claim sign, I keep repeating to myself: "Don't panic, but you've made it." I am now on the other side of this war. The less violent side.            
Iraqi refugees in the US have found how quickly initial benefits dry up and how few the opportunities often are -- to the point that some refugees are considering returning for economic reasons only.  And think how sad that is, refugees to the US think they'd have better economic chances in Iraq.  (As noted before, those refugees who want to should be offered jobs at various US bases where they could provide cultural training to those due to ship out to Iraq for the first time -- and to those who've been to Iraq as well.)  If the paper were smart, it would set up a fund for Sahar and any other Iraqi media worker who came to the US because, without them, the paper's coverage of Iraq would not have been as strong as it was and a large number of readers grasp that and would contribute to a fund.  But let's turn to the violent side.
New news in the continued attacks on Sahwa (e.g. "Awakenings," "Sons of Iraq," etc.).  This morning Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) broke the news that US "aircraft opened fire Thursday night on Sons of Iraq members who were allegedly spotted placing a roadside bomb north of Baghdad".  Mohammed Abbas, Khalid al-Ansary and Dominic Evans (Reuters) add, "The incident could further heighten tensions with the Sunni forces, who number some 90,000 and whom the U.S. military had backed to steer Iraq's Sunni Arabs away from an anti-U.S. insurgency.  The arrest of Adil al-Mashhadani, a Baghdad Sunni Arab force leader, last week started clashes between his supporters and Shi'ite led government forces." UPI reports, "A U.S. military official said an air weapons team spotted four men placing a roadside bomb near Taji 'near a critical road juncture' in a rural area close to a U.S. military base, and where several attacks were carried out in recent months."  Ernesto Londono calls the bombing "the latest sign of the fraying allegiance between the paramilitary groups and the U.S. military." Amazingly, this is how this weekend starts -- amazing after last weekend's violence. Last weekend's violence was kicked off by the arrest of Adel Mashhadani and the slowly revealed of arrest of Raad Ali. Though Mashhadani remains imprisoned, Raad Ali has just been released. Ned Parker and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) report Raad Ali was released by a judge (who dismissed the charges) Wendesday and quotes him stating, "They've accused me many times.  I went to court and they listened to me and said I am clean. If anyone wants to talk about me, every time they have a charge against me, I have shown that I am clean." He also states he was imprisoned in a "secret" location and that the US military had no idea where he was.  Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) observes that Raad Ali "returned home to a rain of celebratory shooting by neighbors and supporters.  He told McClatchy that he'd been charged with seven crimes, including kidnapping a man who'd already accused someone else of the crime, planting roadside bombs, displacing Shiite families and killing two police officers, one of whom had been his own follower.  He said that all of the charges were bogus."  Deborah Haynes (Times of London) quotes an unnamed Sahwa leader in Diayla Province explaining "that the Government did not trust the Awakening movement because it was made up of Sunni arabs.  'We fought al-Qaeda, so how could it be that my guys are terrorists?' said the man, who goes by the nickname of Abu Iraq (father of Iraq). 'I do not trust my Government'."  Haynes notes al-Maliki's pledge to take on responsibility for Sahwa from the US and that only 5% have been provided with jobs (al-Maliki pledged 20%) and that Thursday saw the transfer of the last thousands of Sahwa to al-Maliki's government.  For "Abu Iraq," he has seen half of the 1,000 of the men working under him "laid off without the prospect of further employment and there was no sign that the 530 still with jobs would be accepted into the security forces soon."  Haynes notes the Baghdad located Abu Safar "said a quarter of his force was on strike because of the lack of wages" (the Iraqi government has not been making their payments).  But one Sahwa isn't worried.  Hamza Hednawi (AP) reports the Abu Risha 'clan' is positively glowing and Shakey Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha is thrilled to be in bed with Nouri al-Maliki -- wet spot or not -- and that "he and al-Maliki arleady have discussed joining up in the government that will emerge from parliamentary elections expected late this year." Really?  First off, as Dahr Jamail explained back in February, Shakey is in the "construction business" -- Iraqi mafia -- and a real thug. Second of all, imagine that, Shakey Risha being thrilled with al-Maliki.  Now why would that be?  Let's drop back to the US Defense Dept report [PDF format warning] entitled  "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq March 2009" which we were discussing yesterday. The report went out of the way to lavish the provincial elections held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces on January 31st.  You had to go deep to find out 'irritating' facts such as only 51% of Iraqis voted (many -- largely Shia -- have lost faith in the process as a result of the ones elected in 2005 having done little; Sunnis boycotted the 2005 elections and had they done the same this year, the percentage would have been even lower).  Deep in, it did note that "no party won the majority of votes in any province.  As a result, most of the 14 prvoinces where elections were held will face a period of complex coalition-building before they can form governments."  It also included the laughable assertion that "parties pledged to accept the outcome of the democratic vote."  Did they?  Which brings us back to Shakey Risha.  Did he make that pledge?  Well damned if he didn't abandon it lickety-split.  From the Feburary 4th snapshot:
 Ned Parker, Caesar Ahmed and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) quote Sheik Ahmed Buzaigh abu Risha vowing, "If the percentage is true, then we will transfer our entity from a political to a military one, to fight the Islamic Party and the commission."  If the Iraqi Islamic Party is declared the winner in Anbar, the "Awakenings" say they will begin a slaughter.  And instead of being called out, they're getting catered to.  [. . .] Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) observes how "quickly" the officials go into motion for the ones making threats in Anbar, "The Independent High Electoral Commission sent a committee from Baghdad Wednesday to recount ballot boxes from some polling stations in the province after tribal leaders accused the Iraqi Islamic Party, IIP, which currently controls the provincial council, of rigging the vote.  The accusations of vote rigging came from an especially important source, Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the province's Awakening Council, which is widely credited with bringing calm to Anbar."  Oh, yes, that voice of peace Sheik Risha.  And what did LAT quote him saying? "If the percentage is true, then we will transfer our entity from a political to a military one, to fight the Islamic Party and the commission." [. . .] And Monte Morin and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) quote the menacing Sheik Risha promsing, "There will be very harsh consequences if this false election stands.  We won't let them form a government."
Turning to Anbar Province.  As noted yesterday, Sheik Ahmed Buzaigh abu Risha has been threatening violence over the possibility that the Iraqi Islamic Party might have done better in the polls than his own party.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) observes, "In Anbar province, in western Iraq, tension between rival Sunni parties have been running high after leaders of the Awakening Council groups, or Sahwa militant groups who fought al-Qaida militants in their areas, accused the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), headed by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, of committing fraud to win majority of the 29-seat provincial council. IIP vehemently denied the accusation."  Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports "al-Maliki sent a deputy, Rafie al-Issawi, a Sunni who is an Anbar native" to speak with Shik Risha and that the meeting was also attended by the Iraqi military.  He threatens violence -- he continues to threaten violence -- and he gets his way. All the people who peacefully demonstrated against not being permitted to vote? They're ignored. But it's rush down to make nice with Sheik Risha when, if it was anyone else, the US military would be rushing down to arrest him. And al-Maliki can't stand Risha. The fact that the sheik is being catered to indicates just how little control al-Maliki still has.   

Dahger speaks with another tribe leader from the area, Sheik Ali al-Hatem, who has (like many in Anbar) frequently been in conflict with Sheik Risha (al-Hatem has also had issues with the Iraqi Islamic Party)who notes that each tribe put up their own candidates so you had slates competing against each other as well as competing against IIP. He states that Risha is "sowing rifts among the tribes" and that the violence could become "intratribal": "Ahmed is playing with fire. We will confront him if he acts this way and divides the tribes." al-Hatem doesn't call on al-Maliki to reign in Risha, he calls on the US military to do so. (If that happens, it may take place during today's meet-up in Anbar.) 
Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reports the US Marines are back in "Ramadi in observation roles, patrolling areas from which they had largely withdrawn."  Again, Risha stamps his feet and threatens violence and gets his way. All the people turned away from the polls and refused the right to vote? All Faraj al-Haidari has to offer them is this 'pithy' little comment, "It's not our fault that some people couldn't vote because they are lazy, because they didn't bother to ask where they should vote." Again, they should have ditched the peaceful protest and run around threatening violence -- that's the only way al-Haidari would have listened. Sheik Risha works the commission the way he wants to.
Now what had Shakey Risha so upset was the fact that he lost big.  He knew it, the pollsters knew it.  And instead of telling him "tough cookies," he got catered too.  The mafia don threatened violence and Iraqis and Americans rushed to soothe him.  Many believe the election was tossed to him in the 'counting' as a result of his tantrum.  The fact that he and al-Maliki will be building so many alliances begs the question of what was offered during those February talks that, honestly, should have resulted in Shakey Risha's ass being hauled off to jail? 
International Christian Concern notes that on the first two days of this month, "four Iraqi Christians were killed [in] Baghdad and Kirkuk." Sabah Aziz Suliamn was murdered in Kirkuk and the Baghdad killings, taking place on April 2nd, were of Nimrud Khuder Moshi, Glawiz Nissan and Hanaa Issaq.  The organization's president, Julian Taimoorzy, states, "The killing of four innocent people within the last two days has put renewed fear in our hearts.  What is important to keep these continuous atrocities in the media and on the policy makers' radars.  What we need is a more safe and secure Iraq for all of Iraq, especially for the Christians who have faced ethno-religious cleansing." And they quote Jonathan Racho, ICC's Regional Manager for Africa and the Middle East, declaring, "The suffering of Iraqi Christians has been beyond description and is not yet over.  More than ever, the Iraqi Christians need our prayer and support.  The latest martyrdom of our brothers should serve to awaken churches in the Western countries to come to the aid of their Iraqi brothers and sisters.  We call upon Iraqi officials and the allied forces in Iraq to avert further attacks against Iraqi Christians.  It is simply unacceptable to watch the extinction of the Christian community from Iraq."  Sabah is the Iraqi Christian Betty was noting last night who was beheaded.  Betty also noted Daniel Graeber (UPI) reporting on the fears of Iraq's Christian community quoting Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako declaring, "Under Saddam's regime, we had security but no freedom.  Today we have freedom, but the problem is security." The Archbishop also pointed out the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians who have fled Iraq.  On Iraqi refugees, an Iraqi correspondent for BBC News shares this popular joke in Iraq, "A Jordanian finds a magic lamp.  A genie appears and asks him what is his heart's desire.  'Send all these Iraqi refugees back across the border,' the man says. 'Why?' asks the genie. 'Whatever have we done to you?'"