Monday, November 26, 2007

Where the Fugees at?

Lenin's latest post has led me to do a bit of detective work on the "success" stories being bandied about in the media currently regarding the supposed shininess of the situation in Iraq. Amir Taheri, a sycophant at the New York Post last seen spreading the utterly discredited rumor that Iran forced Jewish citizens to wear special badges, has recently published a piece raising the typical conservative hue and cry over the failure of the media to publish the "good news" from Iraq. One of his claims which has received heavy rotation in recent weeks is the allegation that Iraqi refugees are returning to Iraq in droves thanks to the surge. Taheri claims specifically that "Iraqis who'd sought temporary refuge in neighboring countries are returning home in large numbers - 1,000 a day returning from Syria alone." This claim has also been mouthed by Iraqi governmental officials, eager to secure further American patronage by reporting what the administration wants to hear. Thus Brig. General Qassim al-Moussawi, reported that 46,030 people returned to Iraq in October because of the “improving security situation.”

Before I get to the specifics of this claim, I want to provide some context for the refugee story in general. There are currently about 4.1 million displaced Iraqis, about 16% of the population. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about 2,000 Iraqis are forced to leave their homes every day. Many flee from fear of ethnic cleansing, a fear made all the more real by US plans to partition Iraq. In an interview with Socialist Worker, Raed Jarrar, an organizer on the Iraq refugee issue for the American Friends Service Committee, noted “It’s very ironic to see how the U.S. has allied itself with al-Qaeda...Al-Qaeda and the U.S. support the same kind of political agenda, which is to split Iraq into three sectarian regions.” The Iraqi refugee crisis has been exacerbated most recently by the four-fold increase in air attacks, an indiscriminate imposition of terrorism from above.

The surge has has dramatically hastened the twin processes of ethnic cleansing and refugee growth. As the chart shows, the number of refugees steadily grew over the course of the surge this year. This growth culminated in September, with a massive 16% increase in the number of total refugees in one month.

Thus framed, it's clear that progress in relieving the refugee crisis will have to be of a rather high order of magnitude in order to count as any sort of improvement at all. Examined closely, the administration's claims don't even come close.

The New York Times actually has a decent article on the mendacity Bush and co. are using to try and promote their fairy tale of thousands of Iraqis scrambling back into a country utterly devastated by occupation. It points out that a plurality (46%) of those returning to Iraq are not returning because of a perceived increase in security, but because they have run out of money with which to stay in a foreign country. Twenty five percent reported that they were returning due to visa restrictions. A puny 14% said they were coming back because of increased security.

The article also points out the wild hyperbole involved in calculating such figures as Aheri's 1,000 a day from Syria alone. Such numbers don't discriminate between refugees, foreign nationals who are entering, or even insurgents. In other words, if I were to hop on the road from Damascus to Baghdad, I could be counted among the "thousands" of Iraqis jubilantly returning home.

Even worse than this sleight of hand, however, is the nature of the Iraq to which the few refugees who are coming back are returning. Many of those whose money has run out in Syria are not returning to their old neighborhoods - US encouragement of ethnic cleansing has made this far too dangerous. A prominent Shi'a leader in Baghdad said “There are no Shiite families moving back to Sunni neighborhoods and no Sunnis moving back to Shiite neighborhoods.” Instead, many are forced into a transitory existence, staying with relatives or finding residence in the rapidly expanding shantytowns on the outskirts of Baghdad.

In sum, Taheri and his fellow boosters of empire are, as usual, dead wrong. It is obscene to try and paint a pretty picture of what is happening in Iraq right now. US crimes have piled one atop the other, crushing one of the world's oldest civilizations under a weight of greed, incompetence, and racism.