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U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Iraq Does Not End Humanitarian Obligation

3 years ago
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President Barack Obama reiterated recently that most U.S. troops will soon be departing Iraq, leaving about 50,000 Americans to help maintain the peace and support the Iraqi army and police force. This is good news for our American servicemen, their families and the nation.

But this departure should not be accompanied by a withdrawal of our support for the Iraqi people, particularly for the millions of displaced Iraqis who continue to live in limbo both inside Iraq and in neighboring countries. During a recent mission to observe the situation of the Iraqi displaced, this reality became painfully clear to me.

The humanitarian consequences of this seven-year war on Iraqi civilians are too often unreported in accounts about the situation in Iraq. Since 2003, 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, mainly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, while an additional 2 million have been dislocated from their homes in Iraq.

Iraq warNeighboring countries have by and large kept the door ajar for Iraqis, but not without creating strains on their own populations and resources. The international community, led by the United States, has provided basic assistance to the refugees and resettled a small fraction to third countries, but a long-term solution to this mass displacement has proven elusive. Too many Iraqi families remain fearful of returning home, but are unable to permanently settle in their host country.

Nevertheless, indications are that we are reducing, not increasing, our support. Currently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the agency charged with responding to the refugee crisis, is more than 60 percent short of the funding needed to meet projected needs. The agency also reports that 10,000 refugees designated for resettlement this year have no place to go, as resettlement countries, such as our own, have not agreed to accept a sufficient number.

With the American troop withdrawal on the horizon, the situation could grow worse. Violence could increase and Iraqis who stayed at home may be forced to flee, increasing the number of refugees in the region. Internally displaced persons may be unable to return to their homes and their ranks may grow. The United States has yet to announce plans for handling the humanitarian challenges that could follow withdrawal. It is our moral responsibility to do so.

Moreover, Iraqi Christians continue to be the targets of systematic violence, especially in Mosul and Nineveh. They and other Iraqi minorities are of special concern. Even now, Christians continue to flee Iraq at levels comparable to the rate near the beginning of the war, a deeply troubling sign. These ancient communities once thrived in Iraq, but now face potential extinction.

What should the United States do to address these issues?

First, we should not assume that an end to military involvement signals the beginning of a withdrawal of humanitarian support. As a moral matter, we should not claim victory in Iraq when millions of people have lost their homes and have little hope of reclaiming them.

More important, the United States, in cooperation with the Iraqi government and the international community, must develop a post-war plan, similar to what we have done after other conflicts, to find durable solutions for Iraqi refugees and displaced people.

Such a plan should include steps to strengthen the rule of law and security within Iraq to enable Iraqis, including Christians, to remain or return. It also should include working with neighboring countries to integrate refugees in a host country or resettle them to third countries, if return is not possible.

After World War II, the Marshall Plan restored Europe, and after the Vietnam War the Orderly Departure Program brought many Vietnamese to the United States and other countries. These are examples of American resourcefulness and willingness to repair, to the extent possible, the ravages of war.

Certainly, a post-withdrawal plan should be tailored to current realities, but it should demonstrate the same commitment as earlier post-war efforts, leaving Iraq and its people as whole as possible.

Leaving a large number of Iraqis displaced within Iraq and unsettled throughout the Middle East could create long-term social and political problems, hurting the ability of the United States to achieve other important policy goals.

In the end, the abandonment of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced cannot be an option. We cannot leave behind a humanitarian crisis in the hope that it will correct itself. Such an outcome would create more tension in the region and put at risk the next generation of Iraqis, whose leadership will be needed to build a truly stable and peaceful Iraq.

The writer is archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., and consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop's Committee on Migration and Catholic Relief Services.
Filed Under: Iraq, Military

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28 Comments

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Angela

I'd love to kick the U.N. out of the U.S., but that's a different issue. As for the support for rebuilding Iraq, it must be an International effort, and that effort should be aimed at using as few Americans as possible. It would be better to help establish Iraqi businesses, like in the area of construction. It would take a bit longer for the Iraqi people to do it themselves, but with the correct guidance and funding, it would create jobs for many Iraqi people and subsequently, the economy could begin to be rebuilt. We should focus on getting schools re-built, but schools for boys AND schools for girls, and let Iraqi teachers get back to teaching. We should be instrumental in getting hospitals restored so Iraqi doctors and nurses can get back to helping the sick. Once Iraq is back on its way to stability and security, then we should get OUT and let them run their country.

August 02 2010 at 9:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
coyoteb1

Total BS. Here's what you do - Obama stands up, declares a wonderful victory (after all, we freed these poor people from the tyranny fo Saddam Hussein, right?) and we all go home...see ya, have a nice life, bye. We don't owe these people squat

August 02 2010 at 9:21 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Master Tad

J.R.Gilbert "We have an obligation and responsibility to help our own first is right but we also have a moral obligation to right the disgusting hateful wrong we have committed on a people. As Martin Luther King said. 'This is a call to conscience. Do we still have that or even know what that means, or are we a morally bankrupt selfish and soul-less people. Where along the way have we lost our true American values.

August 01 2010 at 10:39 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Cathy

What is wrong with getting All of our troops out of Iraq? Do not pardon me when I suggest we forget the idea of us trying to keep Their peace, Their food and medical needs, and teaching Them how to act like civil persons. We had to figure that out for ourselves during the grey/blue Civil War. A lot of persons got killed and maimed for life, but We survived for the better. I am So tired of the USA attempting to baby sit other countries, when the money is needed So much here at home.

August 01 2010 at 10:23 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
tennesseeman54

we have already done way too much for the Iraqi's-who show little signs of gratitude......as far as humanitarian relief-let the Iraqi govt give back or try to find all the money that was stolen by Iraqi's-both in the govt and outside it.....they could run that country for 20 years on what they have stolen from us in the time we have been there.....

August 01 2010 at 6:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
fletchertimmy

The 2.5 million didn't flee Iraq, they were killed during the war. Rockefeller depopulation at it's finest!

August 01 2010 at 6:23 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
maddatgv5252

US troop withdrawal will ignite a much larger regional war that is why so much is being put in to attack plans for Iran.

August 01 2010 at 6:19 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
squaw3333

How about the humanitarian obligation to the citizens of THIS COUNTRY!!!!!!!

August 01 2010 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
thorn11acr

I have no problem with supporting the Iraqi's after withdrawl as long as they PAY for it with their oil. Bush was wrong in invading Iraq now we have to prevent a blood bath like the one we caused in Vietnam after Congress sold out the Vietnamese people, pulling out US troops and ceasing all aid of any kind as part of the agreement to the North Vietnamese Communists to pull out. Nixon told North Vietnam the US would pull out and cease all aid to the South right down to a gallon of gas and a single rifle bullet... He told them the US would not come back. They pulled back to their sancuaries in Laos and Cambodia and waited.

After we left Nixon got reelected as planned and the North invaded the South after Nixon was forced from Office. The South Vietnamaes got slaughtered en mass 1.5 million, Cambodia lost 3 million in the geneside under Pol Pot.... all because US politicians wanted votes more than honor. When the Slaughter begins after the pull out in Iraq no one will ever trust us again.

Look up Chase-Church Act and how America betrayeda the Vietnamese people and all those who were loyal to us.

Politicians are the real war criminals

TOM

August 01 2010 at 5:19 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
lee

What humanitarian obligation, Iraq is a soverign nation with their own government. If the cowards hadn"t fled their country they wouldn't need to come back now. Most the ones that fled were the well to do and they were trying to protect their wealth at the expence of the everyday Iraq's. In a short span of time Iraq will again become a dictatorship with one religious group in charge and subjugating all the others. This is the way its been for hundreds of years and thats the way it will be in the future.

August 01 2010 at 3:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to lee's comment
Master Tad

Maybe if we weren't 'SECURING' all their oil wells or twisting Mr. Maliki's arm to sell us the oil for less than what it's worth I'd say forget about humanitarian obligatios, afterall it's an American value only when convenient and for a show so it seems from reading some of your comments.

August 01 2010 at 3:50 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Master Tad

This reply is for LBFM, I,d be happy to cut them a check, but why should I have to pay for someone elses bumbling and outright deceptive lying errors. He who is responsible for breaking it should pay for it. Isn't that the logo in throughout civilized cultures.

August 01 2010 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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