Saturday, February 17, 2007

Iraq's Diaspora

The Iraqi refugee crisis heaps more shame on George Bush and Tony Blair, strains the societies of Syria and Jordan, and refugee relief requires enormous support from the West, and from the rich Middle East countries.

Iraq’s Refugee Scandal

Patrick Seale

Agence Global
February 17, 2007

Copyright © 2007 Patrick Seale
[Republished at GRBlog with Agence Global permission]

U.S. President George W. Bush and his British ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair, have a great deal on their conscience. They do not deserve to remain in office, or even to sleep soundly at night. If there were any justice in this world, they would have to answer for their crimes before a court.

Not only did their foolhardy and illegal invasion of March 2003 smash the Iraq state, dealing a fatal blow to the geopolitical balance of the region, but their continued occupation has spread fear, chaos and instability throughout the Middle East, sparking a vicious Sunni-Shi‘i civil war, and provoking the greatest refugee crisis since the exodus of Palestinians from their homeland after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Some experts believe that the Iraqi refugee crisis is even worse than the unfolding tragedy in Sudan’s province of Darfur, where an estimated 200,000 people have died and two million have been displaced by attacks on their villages by government-backed militias.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that the war in Iraq has caused the biggest displacement of people in the Middle East in recent history.

The Iraqi figures are so great as to be only approximate. It is thought that two million Iraqis have already fled their country; U.N. agencies expect another million to follow them into exile in 2007. A further two million Iraqis have been internally displaced by ethnic cleansing -- a cruel process that is far from over. These people are in urgent need of help and protection.

No one knows how many Iraqis have been killed in the war and in the descent into hell which has followed: Estimates range from 250,000 to 650,000. What is clear is that sectarian violence is claiming about 1,000 lives each week. Antonio Guterres, head of the UNHCR, has described the situation a humanitarian disaster.

A political settlement in Iraq to end the killing, the ethnic cleansing and the flight of refugees must now be an urgent priority for the international community. But President Bush is still in a state of denial. He refuses to recognise the seriousness of the refugee crisis, as this would mean acknowledging that his policies have failed.

As for Tony Blair, by making the fatal error of joining Bush’s war as his junior partner, he has destroyed his own reputation and robbed his country of an independent foreign policy.

The European Union has pledged $13 million as a contribution to the refugee crisis, and Sweden has donated $2m. Britain has so far given nothing. Antonio Guterres is trying to raise $60m in emergency funds. As the Financial Times pointed out earlier this month, this is the equivalent of what the Pentagon spends every five hours on its occupation of Iraq.

The United States has spent about $600bn on its calamitous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has so far pledged the miserly sum of $9m for a world-wide resettlement and relief programme for Iraqi refugees!

Its wars have caused unimaginable hardship to millions, but it has so far admitted only 463 Iraqis to the United States since 2003, although it has now promised to admit another 7000.

Bush continues to believe in a military 'victory’ over the insurgents and is sending more troops to Iraq in the hope of stabilising the situation in Baghdad. This may bring some short-term relief, but few observers think this strategy can be successful.

It is time -- indeed it is long overdue -- for the countries must immediately affected by the Iraqi crisis to take matters into their own hands. Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States should overcome their quarrels and rivalries and insist on the convening of an international conference to hammer out an agreement between Iraq’s warring factions, thus providing the conditions for a speedy U.S. withdrawal.

The poison from a disintegrating Iraq cannot be allowed to infect the whole region. Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two regional heavyweights, have a special responsibility to bring the Iraq war to a close on the basis of an honourable compromise between all the parties to the conflict.

Syria and Jordan are the immediate victims of the flood of Iraqi refugees. They have literally been overwhelmed and, in the view of UN experts, have now reached saturation point. Once again the figures are approximate, but each country is thought to have taken in about one million Iraqis -- with more coming over the borders every day.

Food prices have soared, rents have risen sharply together with the price of real estate. Public services are at breaking point. It is estimated that 30 per cent of Iraqi children in Syria are not attending school, because schools are already grossly overcrowded.

The first Iraqis to flee to Syria and Jordan were the rich and the highly educated -- doctors, lawyers, university professors, prosperous businessmen and their families. They have been followed by the poor who are fleeing for their lives.

"We cannot continue like this," Abd al-Hamid Ouali, the UNHCR representative in Syria, was reported as saying. "The situation is terrible, but we are obliged to do something."

The rich Arab states should donate generously to the UNHCR, Syria and Jordan deserve help, while the United States and Britain should be shamed into paying for the destruction and human misery they have caused.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright © 2007 Patrick Seale

Released: 17 February 2007
Word Count: 885

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