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Wandering Through a Diaspora of Heartache
Nir Rosen Sees Little Relief in Sight for Iraqi Refugees Displaced by War
09/27/2007 6:54 PM ET
Iraqi women wait to board a bus leaving for Syria at the al-Salihiya bus station in Baghdad, 05 September 2007.
Ali Yussef/AFP/Getty
Iraqi women wait to board a bus leaving for Syria at the al-Salihiya bus station in Baghdad, 05 September 2007.

Researching and writing a 10,000 word piece about the plight of Iraqi refugees would be sufficient to drive even the most positive Pollyanna into a state of agitated pessimism, so the concluding assessment of Nir Rosen's latest piece should surprise no one.

Rosen wrote a lengthy piece on Iraqi refugees for the New York Times Magazine back in May, and follows it this month with a more expansive exploration of the new Iraqi diaspora in the Boston Review. He takes an eye-opening wander through Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, where an estimated 2 million+ Iraqis now live, concluding with bleak frustration:

The American occupation has been more disastrous than the Mongols’ sack of Baghdad in the 13th century. Iraq’s human capital has fled, its intellectuals and professionals, the educated, the moneyed classes, the political elite. They will not return. And the government is nonexistent at best. After finally succumbing to Iraqi pressure, the Americans submitted to elections but deliberately emasculated the central government and the office of the prime minister. Now Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki is the scapegoat for American failure in Iraq, and there are calls to remove him or overthrow him. But talk of a coup to replace Maliki fails to understand that he is irrelevant. Gone are the days when Baghdad was the only major city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled the country. The continued focus on the theater in the Green Zone ignores the reality that events there have never determined what happens outside of it. Iraq is a collection of city states such as Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Ramadi, Erbil, and others, each controlled by various warlords with their own militias. And the villages are entirely unprotected. Maliki will be the last prime minister of Iraq. When he is run out there will be no new elections, since they can’t be run safely and fairly anymore, and the pretense of an Iraqi state will be over.

It has become popular with former supporters of the war to blame the Iraqis for the Americans’ failure. The Iraqis did not choose democracy or the Iraqis did not choose freedom, Americans like to say, or the Iraqis have to decide to stop killing each other or Iraqis have to “step up.” But such complaints misplace the blame. Sunni and Shia Iraqis protested the American occupation as soon as it began, and demanded elections and sovereignty. The U.S. ignored their demands and instead imposed a dictator on them, Paul Bremer, hoping he would pave the way for an Iraqi strongman to rule in our stead. Other former supporters of the war, echoing the simplistic sentiments heard during the Balkan wars, now blame the alleged “ancient hatred” between Sunnis and Shias, who have been fighting each other for “thousands of years.” But Iraq had no history of civil war or sectarian violence even approaching this scale until the Americans arrived. Iraq is not Rwanda, where Hutus and Tutsis slaughtered each other and America could pretend it had no role. We did this to Iraq. And it is time the U.S and the international community “step up” to the resulting humanitarian nightmare.


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