Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Iraq Migration

One of the important untold stories of the Iraq War finally finds a place in the big US press: the Iraqi diaspora. There is very little that can be called heartening about the story.

Nearly 2 million Iraqis -- about 8 percent of the prewar population -- have embarked on a desperate migration, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees include large numbers of doctors, academics and other professionals vital for Iraq's recovery. Another 1.7 million have been forced to move to safer towns and villages inside Iraq, and as many as 50,000 Iraqis a month flee their homes, the U.N. agency said in January.

The rich began trickling out of Iraq as conditions deteriorated under U.N. sanctions in the 1990s, their flight growing in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Now, as the violence worsens, increasing numbers of poor Iraqis are on the move, aid officials say. To flee, Iraqis sell their possessions, raid their savings and borrow money from relatives. They ride buses or walk across terrain riddled with criminals and Sunni insurgents, preferring to risk death over remaining in Iraq.

The United Nations is struggling to find funding to assist Iraqi refugees. Fewer than 500 have been resettled in the United States since the invasion. Aid officials and human rights activists say the United States and other Western nations are focused on reconstructing Iraq while ignoring the war's human fallout...

When the story is told in the US, it's usually put in terms of what this means for the reconstruction of Iraq, for the American project. "Success" at this point, after all, means at least the illusion of reconstruction. That illusion is difficult to sustain when the educated middle class has vanished. As I've noted earlier, this leaves a yawning space for a radical transformation of the country in the opposite direction from what the US supposedly desires.

But the migration - or, rather, refugee crisis - has more dire consequences, which are only now rising to the surface of global understanding of the profound tragedy of the war.
Now, the exodus is generating friction and anger across the region, while straining basic services in already poor countries. Iraqis are blamed for driving up prices and taking away scarce jobs. Iraq's neighbors worry the new refugees will carry in Iraq's sectarian strife...

Into their new havens, Iraqis are bringing their culture and way of life, gradually reshaping the face of the Arab world. But the cost of escape is high. Feeding the bitterness of exile is a sense that outside forces created their plight. Many Iraqis here view the U.S.-led invasion that ousted President Saddam Hussein as the root of their woes.

"We were promised a kind of heaven on earth," said Rabab Haider, who fled Baghdad last year. "But we've been given a real hell."
Displacement creates its own problems, and they sneak up on policy after it's too late. For one thing, displacement is the counterweight of permanence and stability. Note that these are the objectives of those prosecuting the war and trying to get out of it. What tragic symmetry.


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