By Michele Zilka
On April 6, 2008, the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq cited significant security improvements and overall progress toward unifying Iraq’s sectarian groups. The contents of the NIE, although classified, were reported in the New York Times, which called the assessment “upbeat” despite the fragility of the security situation in Iraq and the remaining possibility of large-scale terrorist attacks. Days after the NIE release, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker echoed its assertions to the U.S. Congress. Although Petraeus called the improved security situation in Iraq “fragile and reversible,” both he and Crocker concluded that the “surge” was indeed a success.
Unfortunately, both the NIE and Petraeus and Crocker myopically limited their assessments to military and insurgent combat activity, and neglected the multi-dimensional nature of security in Iraq. These analyses completely disregard civilian security, focusing instead on political stability and the ever-growing number of “special groups” supported by Iran and Hezbollah.
Security is undoubtedly multi-faceted, as the level of human suffering in Iraq demonstrates. Forced migration, civilian casualties, inadequate healthcare, and limited access to education have amounted to a full-fledged humanitarian crisis that threatens the majority of the population. This unfortunate reality makes it difficult to remain upbeat about any so-called progress in Iraq.
The neglected humanitarian emergency suggests the need for a new strategy in Iraq. Given the nature of the Iraqi crisis, this new strategy will undoubtedly require an expansive role for the United Nations. If peacekeeping efforts were to be integrated into the U.N. mandate for Iraq, security forces would gain greater leverage, the humanitarian mission could be expanded, and the United States would enjoy greater international legitimacy
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN IRAQ
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than two million Iraqis have fled the country, with most resettling in Syria and Jordan but others fleeing to Lebanon and Egypt. The influx of refugees places a tremendous strain on these countries. Jordan’s interior ministry estimated that the nearly 750,000 Iraqis who have resettled in Jordan place a burden of $1 billion per year on the economy. Jordan has since imposed new entry and residency conditions that require any new Iraqi refugees to be either younger than 20 or older than 40, prove they have sufficient funds to support their stay, and hold a new “G generation” passport.
While Syria remains lenient in its admittance policies, Faisal al-Miqdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, reported that Iraqi refugees in his country have contributed to a complete structural change in the economy. Price inflation of foodstuffs and other basic goods, property prices, and rental costs have increased at rates of up to 50 percent. In Syria, where water is already scarce, water consumption increased by 21 percent, and healthcare facilities are strained.
UNHCR reports that there are currently 2.2 million internally displaced Iraqis, with 60,000 more displaced each month. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that 61 percent of displaced persons fled as a result of direct threats to their lives. Displacement has particularly affected Christian, Palestinian, Mandean-Sabean, and Kurdish minorities. Often targeted for lifestyles perceived to contradict traditional Islamic principles, these communities have been ousted by Sunnis and Shiites seeking power-holds throughout the country. The already-displaced Palestinian population within Iraq, for example, has been reduced from approximately 30,000 to roughly 13,000. U.S. Institute of Peace scholar Nabil Al-Tikriti recently noted that Baghdad is essentially homogenized. He, as well as the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, labeled these trends characteristic of ethnic cleansing. U.S. officials noted last year that the ratio of Sunnis to Shiites in Baghdad has gone from 13 to 9 to approximately 1 to 4.
Women are disproportionately the victims of displacement. The Iraqi Red Crescent reports that nearly 82 percent of Iraqi displaced persons are women and children. Women for Women International’s Iraq Report found that Iraqi women have reported a greater incidence of rape, trafficking, and prostitution. IOM reported that female-headed households are particularly vulnerable to the loss of their husbands, creating incredible consequences for the economic wellbeing of the family. Sadly, women will likely be underrepresented in the Fall 2008 provincial elections, preventing them from taking important steps to improve their conditions.
The humanitarian crisis is not limited to emigration and displacement. Iraqi civilian casualties have reached tremendous heights. The Iraq Body Count estimates between 83,441 to 91,003 civilian deaths have occurred as a result of war-related violence. The database finds that approximately 53 civilians are killed each day due to car bombs, gunfire, or executions.
Quality of life indicators are also troubling. A 2008 Medact report stated that Iraq’s health system is in “disarray,” pointing to a lack of infrastructure, staff shortages, intermittent electricity, unsafe water, and violations of medical neutrality. An overwhelming number of Iraq’s healthcare professionals accompanied the exodus out of the country, causing the healthcare system within Iraq to deteriorate. In Kirkuk, non-access to healthcare has reached 57 percent. Furthermore, IOM found that unattended births and miscarriages have risen as a result of displacement. Mental health has become especially concerning, particularly in children. The World Health Organization found that 47 percent of children between the ages of three and ten have been exposed to a “major traumatic event” in the past two years. The Brookings-Bern Project reported that most children are overcome by fear, and that 5 percent of those children are in a state of fear so critical it could lead to mental retardation.
The war’s effect on childhood education is highlighted by the fact that many parents keep their children home due to fear they will be killed or kidnapped. The Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index reported that through April 2007, only 30 percent of Iraq’s 3.5 million students were attending classes. An Iraqi child psychologist told the Washington Post, “This generation will become a very violent generation, much worse than during Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
THE U.S. RESPONSE SO FAR
The United States is failing to provide comprehensive security to Iraq’s people. Women for Women International’s report found that 71.2 percent of women said they do not feel protected by American and British security forces, and 65.3 percent of women claimed that American and British security forces in Iraq are actually making security worse. Furthermore, Medact, a global health charity, claims that the United States is not compliant with its obligations as an occupying power to protect health facilities and services, as mandated by the Geneva Conventions.
U.S. humanitarian assistance is negligible. Since the invasion in 2003, the United States has admitted only 4,933 Iraqi refugees, a figure representing less than 10 percent of the Iraqis displaced each month. Comparatively, Sweden has welcomed a total of nearly 49,000 Iraqi refugees, accepting 18,559 Iraqis in 2007 to America’s 1,600. The IOM reports that only 22 percent of internally displaced Iraqis have regular access to food and rations, 14 percent have no access to healthcare, and 33 percent cannot access the medications they require.
The U.S. financial commitment to this crisis has been minuscule: of the $134 billion spent on Operation Iraqi Freedom in fiscal year 2007, only $171 million, or 0.1 percent, was spent on humanitarian assistance. Total disbursed international donor assistance to Iraq, excluding U.S. assistance, equals $1.4 billion according to the Brookings Institution. The majority of this assistance has been provided by Japan, which has disbursed more than $1 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.
A NEW STRATEGY: BRING IN THE U.N.
The neglected humanitarian emergency suggests the need for a new strategy in Iraq. Given the nature of the Iraqi crisis, this new strategy requires an expansive role for the United Nations. Currently, the U.N.’s assistance mission for Iraq is limited to humanitarian assistance as mandated by U.N. security resolutions 1770 and 1546. Despite its limited role, the U.N. has implemented a comprehensive training and curriculum development program for Iraqi teachers; given 50,000 children mine-awareness training; administered care-giver training throughout Iraq; launched a public awareness campaign on the proper handling of food and water; provided waste management training; established community development centers; and offered considerable support to the constitutional process.
These activities, while laudable, could be improved upon by expanding the scope of the U.N.’s role to include peacekeeping operations. This can only be achieved by preventing any U.S. effort to undermine the Chapter VII mandate of the U.N.’s charter, which outlines its responsibility to maintain peace and security. The Bush administration has proposed a strategic framework agreement meant to replace the Chapter VII mandate in 2008. This agreement would codify a bilateral peacekeeping agreement between the United States and Iraq and eliminate the presence of the U.N. as a peacekeeping force so that Iraq can resume its normal status as a state.
Normality, however, cannot be gained given the current humanitarian situation in Iraq. Furthermore, the United States has not proven that it is able to maintain security in Iraq. If peacekeeping efforts were to be integrated into the U.N. mandate for Iraq, security forces would gain greater leverage, the humanitarian mission could be expanded, and the United States would enjoy greater international legitimacy for maintaining its obligations under the Geneva Conventions.
Additionally, the enhanced U.N. presence would allow the United States to deemphasize offensive military tactics, a policy Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Chairman Lt. General Robert Gard, Jr. (USA, ret.) has identified as unhelpful. Gard noted that “U.N. leadership [would] resolve some of the outstanding issues, to include lines of authority at the federal, regional, provincial and local government areas, do something about oil developments, revenue sharing, and to deal with the refugee situation which could explode in our face at any time.”
The conflict in Iraq is increasingly becoming a regional issue that threatens international stability. U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon called it “a problem of the whole world.” Tensions between Iraq’s Northern provinces and Turkey are increasing; Iran is suspected of supporting conflict in the region; and the Iraqi refugee diaspora has spread throughout the Middle East. Resolving these issues will require multilateral initiatives and cooperation. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad noted in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, “It is clear at this point that the future of Iraq will have a profound effect on the region and, in turn, on peace and stability in the world.” Khalilzad also noted that the U.N.’s ability and legitimacy are unmatched. “The United Nations possesses certain comparative advantages for undertaking complex internal and regional mediation efforts.”
Many of the United States’ allies agree. A majority of adults in Italy (80 percent), Britain (79 percent), France (74 percent), Germany (62 percent), and Canada (58 percent) support the establishment of a U.N. peacekeeping force to oversee the democratic transition in Iraq.
The progress achieved in Iraq by the U.S. military and the multinational security forces may be progress, but it is not security. The U.S. government suggests that progress is limited to a perceived reduction in violence among warring sects, but weapons confiscated, car bombs detonated, and militias apprehended cannot alone measure the security of Iraq and its people. The great flaw of American assertions of greater security in Iraq is a failure to recognize that security is not one-dimensional. Security threats also come in the form of homes, water, food, hospitals, and schools – or lack thereof. A U.N. peacekeeping force is essential to resolving the non-military security threats that abound in Iraq.
Michele Zilka is a Spring 2008 research intern at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.