"Refugees and Militias"
Refugees International has a new report out about Iraq’s internally displaced people and the tie-in between this and the militia issue. Ken Bacon, President of RI, noted on a conference call that there’s been “much less focus” on the internal dimension of the Iraqi refugee problem, even though it involves a huge number of people — 2.7 million are internally displaced.
Nir Rosen visited Iraq recently and explained that due to Iraq’s lack of state capacity, the primary responsibility for taking care of refugees has fallen on militia leaders who, naturally, use that situation to consolidate their power. He said that Sadrist movements “resettle displaced Shias in the homes of the Sunnis that they displaced” where they are “not charged rent, and often provided with stipends.” In turn, he reports that “very often we saw them joining the Mahdi Army, though unlike joining the Awakening groups you don’t get a salary.” You do, however, get these refugee-related benefits.
Conversely, in Baghdad’s Sunni enclaves, Awakening groups are “giving people the homes of displaced Shias, or occasionally of people they say belonged to al-Qaeda.” Rosen also described them as “running protection rackets and extorting shopkeepers.” Meanwhile, he says that “in every Sunni neighborhood that I visited, displaced Sunnis were joining the Awakening groups” which technically isn’t supposed to be allowed (they are, after all, the Concerned Local Citizens) but the Awakening groups want the recruits and they have goodies to hand out so people sign up. According to Rosen, Awakening leaders “very openly say that we have a temporary cease-fire with the Americans because we have a more important enemy — the Iranian occupation” which is how they see the current ISCI/Dawa government.
Kristele Younes from RI notes that one consequence of the political agendas of both the U.S. and Iraqi governments is that at the moment there’s no contingency planning under way to find ways to mitigate humanitarian problems in case large-scale fighting occurs. After all, such contingency planning would involve conceding that things might get worse, and at the moment all the pressure is on talking about how much things are improving and destined to improve. She called for more American humanitarian spending and also for more spending from the Iraq government: “Iraq is sitting on a lot of money and it is only fair that it would spend some of it to respond to the humanitarian crisis.”