The people of Iraq don’t live, they linger.
With a recent study revealing that a third of the population relies upon emergency aid, it’s not surprising that Iraqis are fleeing in droves. At least two million are now refugees in neighbouring countries.
The Atlantic magazine’s account of the Saydia neighbourhood gives the crisis a human face. The district serves as a microcosm of the entire country.
“At the time of the American invasion of Iraq,” the report explains, “the neighborhood was ethnically mixed and relatively desirable. Saddam Hussein’s government had awarded some of the houses to high-ranking military officers, but the community also included non military Shia and Sunni families, often headed by successful entrepreneurs. A lively commercial drag sliced through the neighbourhood and offered a meeting place, often late into the night, for the men and women who lived there.
“Today many of the neighbourhood’s homes and shops are shuttered or abandoned, and its streets are empty. All but one of the roads into and out of Saydia have been sealed off by the Iraqi forces in an attempt to stem incursions by rival militias and common criminals … A significant proportion of the families that lived here at the time of Saddam Hussein’s fall have fled; at least seven have left Iraq altogether.”
The invasion was, of course, supposed to strike a blow against terrorism. Instead, it’s produced entirely the opposite result. Those seven exiles from Saydia have joined the greatest population shift in the Middle East since the Palestinian diaspora - and we all know how that turned out. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature recognises the contribution that camps of impoverished, embittered Iraqis scattered across the Middle East will make to future terrorist attacks. As Human Rights Watch's UK director, Tom Porteous, explains: “Unless this crisis is addressed, we may well look back in 10 years' time and see the seeds of the next generation of terrorists.”
So if the Australian government was serious about fighting a “War on Terror”, it would draw the obvious conclusion. Australia should strike a blow against that “next generation” of terrorists … by resettling a serious number of the refugees that our war has dumped upon Syria and Jordan.
Sure, the relocation of large numbers of displaced people would require a certain expenditure, but it’s not as if there’s a shortage of funds. The Howard Government has already spent a staggering $20 billion fighting terrorism. If we allocated a small proportion of that - say, a billion dollars or so - to refugees rather than fridge magnets or silly posters, we’d immediately save desperate people, even as we diminished the pool of terrorist recruits and generated massive goodwill throughout the Arab world.
Obviously, a long term solution depends on the stabilisation of Iraq. But that’s not going to happen any time soon.
Besides, if you are trapped in a burning house, I can scarcely use the necessity of extinguishing the flames as an excuse not to help you flee - especially if I started the fire in the first place.
A few years ago, the newspapers were full of lachrymose pundits explaining their enthusiasm for cruise missiles in terms of their devotion to Iraqis.
John Howard still runs the same line. "That has always been our goal - to give the people of Iraq a bit of hope,” he said earlier this year.
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