Iraq after U.S. troops end operations
The Iraq that U.S. soldiers are leaving behind as they end a 7-1/2-year combat mission and prepare to withdraw fully by end-2011 is far from stable or secure.It does not even have a new government five months after a national election in March as Shi'ite-led, Sunni-backed and Kurdish factions continue to tussle over their share of power.
The following are some Iraqi social and economic indicators that paint a picture of the state of the country as President Barack Obama limits U.S. troop levels to 50,000 after August 31, seeking to keep a promise to American voters to end the war.
-- Between 200 and 300 Iraqi civilians are killed in bomb attacks and assassinations every month. This is down from 3,000 a month at the height of the sectarian violence in 2006/07.
-- A total of 4,068 civilians were killed in 2009 through acts of violence and 15,935 wounded, according to the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry.
-- About 15 insurgent or militia attacks are still recorded in Iraq every day despite the fall in violence.
-- At least 1.5 million Iraqis have been driven from their homes by sectarian violence to other parts of Iraq.
-- Iraqi refugees registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in neighboring countries number
207,000, but the total living abroad is believed to be much higher, perhaps as high as 3 million. A little
under 300,000 Iraqis ended up voting at Iraqi embassies abroad during an election last March.
CRIME AND JUSTICE
-- At the end of 2009, about 1,200 prisoners were believed to be on death row, waiting to be executed.
-- Insurgent and militia groups are increasingly turning to crime as the sectarian bloodshed ebbs. There are
no reliable statistics on crime but dozens of people, including children, are thought to be kidnapped for
ransom every month.
-- Criminals have staged increasingly brazen and bloody assaults on gold markets, banks and employees
carrying state company payrolls. Five government workers were killed this week by robbers who stole
$400,000 in oil refinery wages. In May, robbers killed 14 people in a raid on a Baghdad gold market.
-- Unemployment officially stands at 18 percent but experts believe it is closer to 30 percent. The lack of jobs
in particular affects young Iraqis, who could take up arms or turn to crime if they find no legitimate way to
-- More than 95 percent of government revenues come from oil exports.
-- Iraq has signed deals with global oil firms to develop its oil reserves -- the world's third largest -- that could
quadruple its oil output capacity to Saudi levels of 12 million barrels per day and give it billions of dollars to
-- The vast majority of Iraqi households get just a few hours of public electricity per day. Intermittent
electricity is one of the public's top complaints.
-- Iraq's available power capacity is about 9,000 MW. Demand is estimated at 14,000 MW during the
summer when temperatures frequently exceed 50 degrees Celsius.
-- According to government statistics cited by the International Committee of the Red Cross, one in four of
Iraq's 30 million people does not have access to safe drinking water.
-- There are 7 million Iraqis living below the poverty line, or 23 percent of the population of the country. --
Severe malnutrition for some is kept at bay by the existence of a massive public food ration programme
-- Corruption has been a problem for Iraq since before the U.S.-led invasion, but the chaos of war has let it
-- Transparency International's 2009 corruption perceptions index ranked Iraq 176th out of 180 countries
-- Slightly more than 300,000 Iraqi youths aged 10-18 have never attended school.
-- A recent United Nations survey found that 65 percent of Iraqi youth do not know how to use a computer.
-- The same poll found that 62 percent of the youths interviewed believed that a family member could kill a
girl for violating a family's honor and 92 percent agreed that a woman should seek permission before going
-- Iraq suffers from an acute shortage of hospitals. It has 35,000 hospital beds but needs 95,000, according
to the Health Ministry.
-- The UNDP and UNICEF said in a report published last year that Iraq is one of the most heavily mine-
contaminated countries in the world. At least 20 million anti-personnel landmines are thought to remain in
border areas and around southern oilfields.
WIDOWS AND ORPHANS
-- There is no official data on widows and orphans in Iraq after decades of war, but Iraqi officials estimate
the number of widows at no less than 1 million, with 3 million orphans.
Sources: United Nations, Central Bank of Iraq, Ministry of Health, U.S. Forces - Iraq, the Central
Organization of Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT), Iraqi officials, Reuters, ICRC
(Published by Reuters Reporting by Michael Christie and Aseel Kami in Baghdad; Editing by
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments The Most Ignored Humanitarian Crisis
The invasion, occupation and subsequent civil war in Iraq war caused one of the biggest refugees crises in recent history. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 1.7 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan. There are another 1.5 million Iraqi IDPs. The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its regional response plan for Iraqi refugees in January. The appeal called for $367 million to support the refugees. So far, though, only 17.9% or $65 million is funded. The United States has contributed $17 million to the fund.
by Mark Leon Goldberg
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Trafficking of Iraqi Women Rampant
Two months ago, the State Department released its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report (TiP Report), laying out a picture of human trafficking across the globe. In it, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to ending this scourge -- and for the first time, included an evaluation of anti-trafficking measures in our own country.
Our duties, however, do not end at our borders.
Currently, more than 50,000 Iraqi women in Jordan and Syria are trapped in sexual servitude and have no possibility of escape. The burgeoning sex industries in Syria and Jordan are thriving because of instability produced by the Iraq War -- laying responsibility directly at the feet of the United States.Countless Iraqi women and girls were widowed or orphaned by wartime casualties. And the official divorce rate, particularly for mixed-sect marriages, doubled following the US invasion -- likely concealing still more unofficial separations. Both situations left many more women as the sole heads of their households -- and in social alienation, as traditional support systems fractured under the pressure of civil strife. Insecure and alone, many fled and continue to flee to Syria and Jordan.
Prospects in Syria and Jordan, however, are bleak. Neither government recognizes incoming Iraqis as refugees or grants them the right to work. Some Iraqis are granted temporary visas to enter Syria, but visa restrictions were tightened in 2007, rendering most Iraqis ineligible. Unable to support themselves or their households, thousands of Iraqi women have been preyed on by sex traffickers taking advantage of this chaotic environment. Women and girls are recruited in Syria and Jordan as cabaret dancers and then forced into prostitution after their employers confiscate their passports and confine them to their work premises; others are abducted on the streets of Iraq and trafficked into Syria and Jordan to work in the sex industry. Desperate Iraqis traffic female family members, some as young as 11 years old, into Iraq's neighboring countries to pay debts or resolve disputes. And some young Iraqi girls are sold into temporary muta'a marriages, where the girl's family receives a dowry from the husband, and the "marriage," essentially a short-term prostitution arrangement, ends at a specified time. When these women arrive at their husbands' homes in Jordan or Syria, they often find themselves caught in a trafficking ring where they are sexually exploited and never allowed to return home. While these temporary marriages existed before the Iraq War began, the chaos and desperation produced by the war have made muta'a arrangements much more prevalent. Even Iraqi families that migrate to Syria or Jordan intact often dissolve under the economic and cultural pressures of the refugee lifestyle, leaving children as easy prey for sex traffickers.
Yet despite the clear path that turns Iraqi mothers and daughters into prostitutes against their will, these trafficked women have received scant attention from American policymakers who have the power to alleviate these women's suffering and condemn the countries that allow it to flourish. The solution lies in expedited resettlement: the United States can protect these vulnerable women by making Iraqi trafficked women a priority resettlement group and putting greater pressure on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to follow suit. Doing this would finally provide Iraq trafficking victims with a resettlement option that is fast and effective enough to actually help them.
Meaningful American support would help counteract Syrian and Jordanian indifference towards these women. Both governments are only beginning to admit that trafficking is a rampant crime within their borders. According to the TiP Report, neither country fully complies "with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking." Although the Syrian government recently acknowledged the broader problem of human trafficking in its country and passed legislation recognizing human trafficking as a crime, the State Department reports that this has not led to any increased enforcement. Furthermore, referral of victims to Syria's two women's shelters remains "ad hoc and inconsistent." Jordan also recently finalized a general anti-trafficking action plan, though the State Department confirms that the plan is "inadequate" and highlights the problematic absence of shelters for victims of trafficking in Jordan. Neither Syria nor Jordan has specifically acknowledged the problem of Iraqi women trafficked into their countries, or taken steps to provide these victims with shelter or aid. In fact, rather than finding shelter in Syria or Jordan, some Iraqi prostitutes find themselves arrested and deported to Iraq as criminals, where they are killed to preserve their family's honor.
The United States should have provided a means of escape from this hopeless situation long ago -- by classifying Iraqi trafficking victims as a "priority-two" (P-2) refugee resettlement group, thereby expediting their resettlement process. This is the best way to create a fast track out of the horrific conditions these women face.
The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2008 gave the Secretary of State the authority to designate "vulnerable populations" of Iraqis as P-2 refugees. P-2 refugees apply directly to the US Refugee Admissions Program, skipping the typical bureaucratic hurdles of first applying to UNHCR to determine their refugee status and then being assigned to a resettlement country. P-2 status refugees must show they are part of a designated vulnerable group, but once they have done so, they are granted resettlement status. The United States has used priority status in the past to help refugee groups whose dislocation began after American military operations. The clearest example was America opening its borders to "Amerasians" -- children of American soldiers who remained in Southeast Asian after the Vietnam War. Congress has authorized the State Department to take similar action for Iraqi refugees, yet the State Department has created no new Iraqi P-2 groups since the legislation passed in 2008 and designated "Iraqis who worked for the US government, contractors, or US-based NGOs or media organizations, and their family members" and "persecuted religious or minority groups with close family members in the United States" as P-2 categories. This inaction stands in sharp contrast not only to the severe needs of Iraqi trafficking victims, but also to the responsibility America bears for their situation.
Beyond solidifying its own commitment to assisting Iraqi trafficking victims, the United States must encourage the UNHCR to focus on trafficking victims in Jordan and Syria. Our work with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project has shown us that UNHCR is currently ill-equipped to provide trafficking victims urgent resettlement in life-threatening situations. In Syria, where trafficking is a particularly severe problem, refugees can expect meager monetary aid and a two-year wait before being resettled. Worse still, self-identifying as a trafficking victim only makes the wait longer by adding steps to the resettlement process. For victims seeking protection from UNHCR, this delay means further sexual exploitation, if not a lost chance at resettlement. The United States, which provides UNHCR with roughly one third of its funding and resettles more refugees than any other nation, has the clout to lean on UNHCR to streamline the resettlement process for trafficking victims in Syria and Jordan.
The United States is now preparing the withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq. However, the Iraqi women and girls trapped in sexual slavery will remain long after the last American soldier leaves unless we are willing to accept our responsibility to alleviate this problem. When Secretary of State Clinton announced that the TiP Report would now judge the United States "based on the same standards to which we hold other countries," she added that "this human rights abuse is universal and no one should claim immunity from its reach or from the responsibility to confront it." We cannot abdicate our responsibility towards these women, and must provide a safe and rapid means for their resettlement. Furthermore, America must ensure that UNHCR addresses the inefficiencies that make resettlement so difficult for these women. It is not enough to watch passively as these women struggle with a broken refugee resettlement process. We have an obligation to mend that system -- to remove the shackles holding these women down.
By Sebastian Swett and Cameron Webster and published by The Nation
Sebastian Swett is a student at Yale Law School. He works with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, part of the Urban Justice Center and Cameron Webster is an undergraduate at Yale studying Political Science and aiming to practice immigration and refugee law after graduation. She works with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, part of the Urban Justice Center.
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments VIDEO: From Baghdad to Brooklyn
In the fall of 2006, I journeyed to the Middle East as an independent journalist to cover the growing Iraqi refugee crisis. At the time, one in five Iraqis had left their homes. With nearly four million people displaced, it was the largest refugee and displaced persons community in the world.
I soon realized no one was immune from the dangers that faced Iraqi citizens. However, one specific group seemed to be under particular risk -- members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.
In the fall of 2005, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had called for the killing of homosexuals "in the worst, most severe way possible." As a result, a spate of brutal attacks against homosexuals began throughout the country. Gay men and women were systematically targeted and sometimes stoned to death in the streets, a story almost completely ignored by the media. I met one gay man who had fled after he stepped outside one morning to find the severed head of a male victim (presumably that of another gay man), also with a note attached – "Get out of town poppy."
Another young man, 24 year-old Mohamed, had left his Baghdad home after a note had arrived on his front door reading "If your gay son doesn't leave the country, we'll kill the whole family." He told me he considered himself lucky – "at least they warned me." His mother put him on a plane two weeks later.
I met Mohamed in Syria shortly after he had fled Iraq. A former model, he was eccentric and captivating, and I was immediately drawn to him. I decided to extend my trip and spend more time documenting his life. I was drawn into the whimsical world Mohamed created to escape from the cold reality of his everyday hardships. But I felt that I couldn't just sit back and watch his life deteriorate, so I become deeply entrenched in the process of getting him asylum in the US. I became his friend, confidante and even roommate. This wasn't always easy and at times, we almost felt like we were each other's own best enemy.
Working to get him asylum in the United States was a long and arduous process. I found a Canadian lawyer who agreed to work pro-bono to help us build a case for Mohamed. We laid out every threat he had received – inside and out of Iraq – and built a solid claim for resettlement. After nearly two years, he was referred for resettlement by UNHCR, and eventually accepted by the United States. He now resides in Brooklyn.
When I got back to New York City, I realized I had an amazing opportunity to help shed light on the issue of gay refugees by telling Mohamed's story. Luckily, I filmed the entire process of both getting to know Mohamed and helping him obtain asylum. I also gave him a camera to keep and record video diaries when I wasn't with him. “From Baghdad to Brooklyn” brings together the struggle, tears, triumphs, and dancing that characterized Mohamed's journey and our relationship. The film will give viewers a first-hand perspective of how he perceived the world, himself, and our relationship; as well as bring much needed attention to this tragic issue.
Published by San Diago Lesbian and Gay News. The film is now in its last phase of production. To help bring this story to life, please consider becoming a backer on Kickstarter.
From Baghad to Brooklyn - GritTV - The funniest bloopers are right here
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments ill-equipped to cope with mental illness
Asmaa Shaker sits on a leopard-print blanket in a Baghdad psychiatric hospital, her eyes heavy. The drugs have kicked in now, the fear has subsided, and she can sleep.
Without medication, she rarely sleeps. Three times in five years, her home was damaged in bombings, the most recent just two weeks ago. Her husband's leg was ripped from his body, her 12-year-old son turns yellow and shakes at the thought of leaving the house, the family is thousands of dollars in debt, and she lives with a constant fear.
"The pressure is too great," she said at Ibn Rushd, a central Baghdad psychiatric hospital. "I found my neighbors on the ground, children dead on the ground. I'm scared. I'm very scared."Even as a pullback of American troops marks a winding down of the war, more and more Iraqis are seeking medical treatment for trauma-induced mental illnesses, and the medical community is unable to keep up.
Across Iraq, 100 psychiatrists are available to serve a population of about 30 million people, Iraq's psychiatric association says. Many people self-medicate, and prescription drug abuse is now the number one substance abuse problem in Iraq. The most abused drug is called Artane, known generically as trihexyphenidyl but referred to in Iraq as the "pill of courage," with a marked sedative effect.At the country's largest and only long-term mental health institution, Al-Rashad, this year has seen a 10 percent increase in patients, and doctors say they've had to turn people away from the government-funded facility because of crowding.
For Shaker and for scores of other Iraqis, every street is a reminder of what was, what is and what could be again: Reminders of people gingerly stepping over the bodies thrown in the streets in tit-for-tat killings between sects during the sectarian war. Reminders of the U.S. military raids, Iraqi military raids, militia interrogations, assassinations and insurgent bombings. Now the violence has subsided to a lower but still frightening level, and many Iraqis struggle to deal with the trauma of their past and the uncertainty of their future.
Last year, Iraq's health ministry began to incorporate psychiatric treatment into primary-care hospitals to keep up with the trauma people have suffered, said Naama Humaidi, the general secretary of the psychiatric association. "The violence, aggression and turmoil in Iraq is directly connected to the increase in mental problems," he said. "There is an exceptional, threatening situation that cannot be understood by any other society. It made a thumbprint on each person in our country."
Poetry and psychiatry
On a recent Monday, Humaidi sat inside the rehabilitation center at Al-Rashad hospital, the walls decked with patients' paintings. The gloomy institution is more than 50 years old and rises on the horizon in a deserted area outside the poor and sometimes dangerous slum of Sadr City. It stands away from other buildings, forgotten and neglected. About 80 percent of families abandon their relatives once they commit them here, doctors said. When patients are ready to rejoin society, they often have nowhere to go.At a long work table, Humaidi gathered the men and women to sing and to recite poetry. The songs often circled back to grief, abandonment and fear.
Some wept as they sipped on pink soda, painted portraits and ate sweet cakes. Some who have been here for decades have lost a sense of time and place, while others came after the trauma of Iraq's latest war. Eight doctors, including Humaidi, care for about 1,300 patients. There is no bed space for more, and the facility needs more than a dozen additional psychiatrists to function properly, he said.A young girl named Fatma, petite and sad, screamed the words of an 11th-century Iraqi poet. Her family, exhausted by her mental illness, dropped her here recently when her father died."What have I seen in this world? And its wonders?" she recited.
"I try to give them positive reinforcement and the tools to rejoin society," Humaidi said.As Humaidi walked through the barren wards with their dingy white walls, women cried out."I want to go home," a woman begged, tears streaming down her face."Sing me a song," he asked her. The tears dried, and she began to sing.The pink curtains and plastic flowers don't mask the sadness of this place: the metal bars on every door, the television locked in a cage and the fluorescent lights that flicker above. The women stare out the windows waiting for something to change.
Dhia Hardan, 38, suffers from manic depression. He comes to the hospital for very short stays to play music for the patients and collect his medication. He hears the whispers in the streets about his illness. He sees the looks of passersby worried they could catch what he suffers from, as many people here believe.
Hardan was always prone to depression, but his music helped. When the sadness comes, the Shiite Muslim pulls out his ornately carved oud, a pear-shaped string instrument, and pours his grief into his songs. But after the U.S. invasion, the civil war and the militant sectarianism that followed, he stopped talking to people and he rarely left his home, the art teacher said.The Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia that enforces a prohibition on music, controlled the streets of his poor Shiite neighborhood. Hardan worried he would be killed or reprimanded for his music, as so many others were. He put away the instrument, the only thing that understands him, he said.
To this day, despite the drop in violence, the only places he plays are at the hospital and in his living room with a fellow artist. "I feel the whole universe is shrouded in darkness, without hope, without life. I even hate to walk out the door," he said.Hardan is philosophical about the violence of the past seven years. "Everything that is bad we threw on the occupation," he said. "But if we shook hands and were united, this wouldn't have happened to us. I hope our country can finally have some rest."
A psyche shattered
For Shaker's family, there is no rest. The first bombing in 2005 destroyed their home and their store and took her husband's leg. But it was the second bombing, which also struck the family home last year, after they had made repairs, that left Shaker mentally ill, family members say. No place was safe, she concluded, and she soon became inexplicably violent.Two days after that attack, she walked into her son Muntathar's room and held a knife over him. Her husband, Raad Fadhil Ali, wrestled it from her arms. She threw the television into the wall. She ripped out an electrical socket before running into the streets. Her husband took her to the hospital the next day.
After two weeks of treatment, she came home calmer. Things would be okay now, her husband thought. Their home was near a Shiite mosque, which was frequently targeted, and he moved them to a new Baghdad neighborhood. They left behind the family store they had borrowed money twice to repair and resettled into a rented two-room shack.About two weeks ago, a third bomb was planted, this one in a nearby coffee shop. As her husband and son recalled it, the glass in their house blew in, and as the dust settled, Shaker screamed.
"They followed us here?" she sobbed. "We're going to die."Her husband sought help from faith healers across the country, then returned her to the hospital. At home, he takes care of Muntathar alone, hobbling on his remaining leg. Outside, he set up a small, street-side business selling cigarettes and drinks. Inside, in the stark living room, a picture of the couple during better times is propped near the family's only bed.
By Leila Fadel for the Washington Post with special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Jinan Hussein contributed to this report.