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June 4, 2008
Exodus (II)By Greyhawk
Continuing a series, previous entry here.
As the rest of the world debates the "progress" in Iraq, displaced Iraqis are returning home. One might think that would be cause for hope leading to calls for support. If so, one would be wrong.
Back in October I attempted to explain what was going on in Iraq in as few words as possible. I was busy - there was a war still going on ("we've won" not being the same as "it's over") so it wasn't until November that I had time to offer further details. But around that time American media sources essentially confirmed what I was saying - they stopped covering Iraq in all but a cursory fashion. (The news coverage we'll be examining below comes from foreign sources.)
I'd actually had the sense that we'd tipped the scales a few weeks earlier, but was waiting for a non-violent end of Ramadan (generally a period of increasingly violent al Qaeda attacks in Iraq - if the group has any capability) to express the thought "out loud". It's likely that Iraqi refugees were awaiting the same signal - because at that point they began to return.
In subsequent months the status of the conflict in Iraq has been a topic of some debate among the (generally uninformed) American public, with an increasing number realizing what was rather obvious six months ago - at least to the refugees who'd fled Iraq in the violent months before.
Another bit of intel that should be obvious from that initial November report is that the United Nations was unprepared for their return. On one hand...
An Iraqi official at Al-Walid border post between Syria and Iraq interviewed by state television Al-Iraqiyah said between 700 and 1,000 Iraqis are returning daily.But in the same story, UN representatives outside of Iraq denied the situation altogether:
In Geneva, the agency said Saturday it "does not believe that the time has come to promote, organise or encourage returns" given the volatile and unpredictable security situation in Iraq.The United Nations response to events would confuse anyone who wasn't aware of the organization's motivation on the issue (which we'll examine shortly). By the end of November, the group was insisting it was assisting Iraq with the return of refugees:
BAGHDAD (AFP) — The United Nations is helping Iraq deal with problems related to the return of refugees, a UN official said on Tuesday, amid confusion over how many Iraqis are returning to their war-torn homeland....even as agencies of the Iraqi government acknowledged they had no way of determining exactly how many were returning:
"We do not have figures of the returning families," Sattar Nowruz, spokesman for the ministry of displacement and migration, told AFP on Tuesday. "We don't have any idea."That story also included statements from returnees that life for them in Syria was far worse than life in Iraq:
Two families who have returned to Baghdad recently explained to AFP why they decided to leave Syria.By early December, the Iraqi Red Crescent would offer a lower estimate of the number of Iraqis returning to their homeland:
Between 25,000 and 28,000 Iraqi refugees have come home from Syria since mid-September, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organisation said Monday, confirming a growing trend but casting doubts on reports of mass returns.Any methods the Red Crescent used to derive their estimate were not provided in the story.
But this UN reversal of its statement from the week prior was:
The UN refugee agency has not been assisting in the operation and remains concerned about the situation in Iraq, it added.But the UN was able to claim contact with 100 refugee families in Syria - and offered a slightly modified version of earlier complaints regarding conditions there:
The UNHCR, meanwhile, said in a statement on its website that a survey in Syria of 100 Iraqi families found that most of those returning do so because they are running out of money or resources or because their visas have expired.(Again - more on the UN's motivations to follow.)
But by early January, the Red Crescent would increase its estimates dramatically:
Around 20,000 Iraqi refugees returned home from Syria in December, suggesting an improved security situation in the country, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.And (assuming they were actually deployed) the UN's three-man aid crew was having a tough go at trying to get its own head count:
The UNHCR says it is proving difficult to determine exactly how many Iraqi refugees are returning home.But days later, another look at the situation for Iraqis in Syria was detailed here:
The Syrian government does not allow the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria to work legally and an increasing number of refugees have taken up "harmful practices," from prolonged fasting to prostitution, in order to survive.But note the "UNHCR said staff in Syria had received reports that 128,000 Iraqis were recorded as leaving", though they'd been able to contact only 754 families for a survey - out of an "estimated 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria".
By February, the UN claimed once again it would begin working with the government of Iraq - and might even move (or had moved) some representatives into the country:
The UN refugee agency said Saturday it has boosted its international presence in Iraq and will intensify its efforts to support the war-torn country's two million internally displaced people.However, by April the UN was able to locate and interview 1,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria and declare no problem:
29 April 2008 –Only 4 per cent of Iraqi refugees currently plan to return to their own country, while almost all have fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity, according to a report out today from the United Nations refugee agency.Unfortunately, about the only obvious conclusions that can be drawn from the above collection of stories are:
The number of Iraqi refugees can not be reliably determined.
The number of refugees returning can not be reliably determined.
Conditions for refugees in Syria are worse than (or as bad as) what they face in Iraq
The UN has no idea if it is (or even should be) doing anything about the situation or not.
But within days the New York Times had broken the news of an event to the American public - and other news agencies would follow.
Posted by Greyhawk / June 4, 2008 2:57 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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