Sunday, November 09, 2008

Welcome Home to Iraq

The current Iraqi government is enticing people to return home with free bus tickets, airline flights and one time cash payments. Behind the scenes, they are pressuring other nations to not offer visas or resettlement options for Iraqi refugees. The UNHCR is trying to convince NGO's to return to Baghdad. In the American media the Iraq security situation is portrayed as "vastly improved" and as "life returning to normal".

What exactly is considered "normal" for a country occupied by a foreign army for five years (resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths), suffering from economic sanctions for 12 years prior to that (resulting in 500,000 deaths of children under 5 years old) while run by a dictator that suppressed his opposition with extreme violence (resulting in untold numbers of deaths), prior to sanctions attacked by the same army that now occupies the country (resulting in upwards of 200,000 deaths) and prior to that attack, a ten year war (supported and armed by the country that now occupies it) with its neighbor Iran (resulting in hundreds of thousands dead)?

There is no mention of the ghettoization of Baghdad, with blast walls slicing up neighborhoods based on religious beliefs or political leanings, only one way in and out. Even the Green Zone is a huge ghetto for the affluent and political elite, with government officials unable to travel outside its walls without armed convoys to escort them. As the media portrays Iraqi children dressed in school uniforms playing soccer, kidnapping for profit continues to be a growing sector of the Iraqi economy. As the media portrays families daring to venture outside after dark as a huge security victory, there is no mention that even the water supply has become a killer. Cholera has spread throughout the south and now reaches into Baghdad neighborhoods. It has been determined that 33% of the piped water in Baghdad is not fit for human consumption. The militias are still well armed and manned. They may be quiet now, but they are in the neighborhoods and still killing innocent citizens. You may be killed because you don't wear a headscarf or you belong to a different religion or you haoppen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like the water in Baghdad, walking outside your immediate nighborhood is not fit for human consumption.

So why is the Iraqi government pushing for its citizens to return without a promise of safety and security? Perhaps in the run up to elections in the USA and in Iraq it is to prove that hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent on 5 years of death and destruction was somehow warranted. Perhaps it was so Americans can rest easy now that we have brought democracy to another country.

In fact we have reduced a first world country to a third world country and its citizens, at least those outside of politics, are all rapidly approaching destitution.

Iraqi refugees will have none of it. Very few are buying into the promises and returning home. Safety is the major concern, though they tend to put it more bluntly. One family member smiled and said, "They wish for us to return so they can kill us." Another said, "Return home? Our beautiful home was stolen by a militia, I have nothing to return to." Others are deadly serious, "If I return home, I will be killed." In Jordan and Syria even families of modest means have been driven into destitution.

They wait for many things, they wait to renew their visas, they wait for their assistance funds to pay the rent, the wait to eat because the food aid is not enough, they wait for blankets, winter is coming and will not wait. They wait for a phone call, just a phone call to tell them what is next. Some have been waiting for years, just for a phone call. A phone call to renew their hope, a phone call to leave open a possibility of tomorrow.

Only when the last option is extinguished and out of sheer desperation will they dare return to Iraq. Once "home" they find there is no exit.