Iraq war commemorations ignore ongoing humanitarian disaster
During a ceremony at Fort Bragg yesterday, President Barack Obama formally ended the Iraq War by saying that US troops
will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high. One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America's war in Iraq will be over. Now, we knew this day would come. We've known it for some time. But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long.
Yes, the moment is profound all right, but somehow he managed to leave out of his remarks any mention of the refugee disaster the US invasion and occupation unleashed and which is unlikely to improve during “peace.” In the wake of the war and the resulting sectarian fighting, Iraq now has some 1.3 million internal refugees, many of whom are living under appalling conditions in refugee camps spread around the country. Moreover, an additional 1.6 million have been forced to flee to neighboring countries, a million of them to Syria alone. With a civil war shaping up in that nation, and with the threat of Israeli and US attacks hanging over everyone’s heads, these unfortunates may be forced to seek refuge elsewhere. But who will have them? What government will willingly provided shelter for an uprooted population for an unspecified period of time?
Iraqi Christians are just one of several minority groups being
driven permanently from their homes - as if anyone in America
could be bothered to even inform themselves about it.
Displacement, whether abroad or within one’s own country, is not merely an issue of poverty and inconvenience, as an American observer might imagine. As the Independent reports today,
Around 450,000 of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] are living in the worst conditions, crammed into 380 street settlements scattered around the country. They have little or no access to clean water, sanitation or medical care. Many of these people, deemed to be illegally squatting, cannot get the documents necessary to register for welfare relief or take up jobs, or enrol their sons and daughters in schools. The tension and claustrophobia of such an existence has led to psychological problems, especially among children. Domestic violence is rife.
And the displacement is continuing. According to a new report by Minority Rights Group International, many minorities “face targeted threats and violence, the destruction of their places of worship, the loss of homes and property and lack of government protection of their rights. This violence has caused significant numbers of minorities to flee Iraq, in some cases decimating communities to the point that they risk disappearing altogether from their ancient homeland.”
In October 2010, an attack on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad killed fifty-six Christians and twelve members of other faiths. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concluded that around a thousand families subsequently fled Baghdad and Mosul for Kurdistan and the Niniveh plains. Some international officials suspect the figure is closer to 4,000 Christian households. Christians speak of 8,000. Overall, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that at least half of Iraq’s pre-2003 Christian community, once around a million strong, has left the country, probably never to return. This trend essentially terminates Christianity’s nearly two millennium-long presence in Mesopotamia. Baghdad’s Jewish population has been reduced to less than ten.
At least some Americans have heard that Christians and Jews are fleeing the country for their lives, but how many have ever heard of Chaldeans, Syriacs, Assyrians, Circassians, Baha’is, Black Iraqis, Roma, Faili Kurds, Kaka’i, Sabean Mandaeans, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Yazidis?
All of this devastation comes on top of the overall Iraqi death toll, which ranges from around 100,000 to upwards of a million, depending on whom you trust. It likely produced some 4.5 million orphans, on top of the half million children killed under the earlier sanctions regime, along with veritable legions of widows.
The economic impact has been devastating and seemingly permanent. If 17% of the Iraqi population lived in slum conditions in 2000, the figure today is 50%. Seven million out of thirty million Iraqis live below the poverty line. (Figures taken from Informed Content.)
But wait – wasn’t Saddam Hussein an evil dictator, and wasn’t it overthrowing him “worth the price in blood and treasure,” as Defense Secretary Panetta put it yesterday in Baghdad? Yes, yes – so everybody keeps telling me. But since you insist on bringing up the human rights issue, it took WikiLeaks to inform us of conditions in Iraq’s own state-run prisons, where in 2006 a US-Iraqi inspection team “discovered more than 1,400 detainees in two separate facilities held in squalid, cramped conditions not uncommon in MOI Commando detention facilities. Forty-one detainees interviewed had bruising and lash-marks consistent with violent physical abuse. Thirty-seven juveniles were illegally held at the facility, many alleging sexual abuse.”
“It's harder to end a war than begin one,” Obama told the soldiers. Well, the displaced persons of Iraq know all about that. Their war is just getting started.