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Continuing a series begun here.
Judith Miller, in City Journal:
There are no campaign rallies or bumper stickers for him in Syria, no “Yes We Can” T-shirts on sale, but Obamamania has definitely infected the “beating heart of Arab nationalism,” as it once called itself. During my recent visit to Damascus, Syrian officials and the political elite seemed captivated by Barack Obama, well before it was clear that the Democrats’ charismatic young superstar would be the party’s presidential nominee.True - there are two billion reasons Bashar hearts Barack that weren't mentioned in that story. We'll get to them shortly.
Partly, it’s Obama’s youth that makes him attractive to Syrians, roughly half of whom are under 18 and whose own president, Bashar Assad, is four years younger than Obama. “But it’s not just Obama’s age that we like,” says Obaida Hamad, a 32-year-old reporter for Syria Today, the country’s only independent, English-language magazine.
Meanwhile, back in Iraq, following the New York Times lead many American media sources began reporting on the return of exiles to their neighborhoods. The Christian Science Monitor examined how the American military deals with the challenge:
In Saidiyah, a religiously mixed neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad rebuilding after sectarian bloodshed peaked here last year, as many as 400 families have retuned since the Americans arrived and implemented radical new safety measures.Not all the returning displaced persons are crossing borders. Many had moved to new homes in safer neighborhoods in Iraq. With the dramatic drop in violence many of them are coming home.
Now, US soldiers are making it their priority to ensure the area's 60,000 people are living in their rightful homes and that when residents return, their transition back to Saidiyah goes as smoothly as possible.
"It's the biggest thing that we're dealing with now," says Capt. Andrew Betson, the commander of Alpha Company of the 4-64 armor battalion, Fourth Brigade, Third Infantry Division, whose soldiers operate in Saidiyah.
When Alpha Company arrived last December, the neighborhood was "a ghost town," Lieutenant Harmon says. The Americans encircled the area with a 12-foot wall and swept through, knocking down gates as they searched dusty compounds for members of Shiite and Sunni militias. Today, they knock politely on doors to inquire about the status of the residents inside.
According to the 4-64 battalion commander, Lt. Col. Johnnie Johnson, between three and five families come back daily.
But the pattern in which they are returning is often based on their religious affiliation, and Saidiyah's streets where Shiites and Sunnis were once neighbors are now either exclusively Sunni, in the south, or entirely Shiite, in the north, many residents here say.
Every day in Saidiyah, American and Iraqi troops set out from their austere combat outpost to go from house to house, asking residents for their deeds and assessing the legitimacy of real estate agencies.
But even if families are squatting in someone's abandoned house, the American policy is not to move any families out, says Captain Betson. And if the rightful owners return, "they basically have to stay displaced, they have to stay wherever they are," he says. The troops pass on the information to the Saidiyah neighborhood council, which is trying to solve scores of property disputes.
"I'll pass on moving out families with a 2-year-old daughter," says Harmon. "That's not our role. That would get ugly."
BAGHDAD (AP) — The surge has been good for the Murads.But the AP reporter adds that the trend is still early: "families like the Murads are a tiny minority"...
Just over a year after they were driven out of their Baghdad neighborhood by militants who kidnapped their son, the parents and children are back in their home. The Shiite family is living among longtime Sunni neighbors, protected by U.S. forces and armed with safety guarantees from the Sunni tribal sheiks who had joined forces to drive al-Qaida in Iraq from the area.
"I am happy to be back to my house and enjoying the company of my Sunni neighbors and friends," says Ali Jassim Murad, 43, a Culture Ministry employee and head of the household.
Murad, the Culture Ministry employee, got his kidnapped son back and was able to exchange houses with a Sunni friend, but the new place was much smaller and he repeatedly had to prove to militia interrogators that he was Shiite.
In February the Murads and the Sunni family moved back to their own homes.
"There are now areas of Baghdad and other cities that have become ethnically homogenized," says Roberta Cohen, a human rights specialist with the Brookings Institution.Also apparent - many are returning to damaged or destroyed homes. Rebuiling begins:
In Khidr, a Shiite hamlet of date palms 45 miles south of Baghdad, all that remains of the downtown area are the mosque walls and huge piles of rubble. Months of shelling and bombings blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq finally forced all 800 villagers to flee in October 2006.For their part, the Iraqi government has formed the Commission for Resolution of Real Property Disputes in an attempt to sort out ownership of property - a problem that began long before 2003:
"Life was completely destroyed. We didn't even see birds in the trees," said Jaafar Hussein, a village sheik.
Hussein's wife, Mhadiya Kherbat, cooks in the backyard while their house is rebuilt from scratch. Clothes dry on bushes. A cow grazes beside the makeshift kitchen. There is no running water or electricity.
Wearing a black robe over a flowered dress, Kherbat said she cried every day after fleeing with her husband and 10 children to a nearby village.
"Suddenly we left our house, we left our belongings and we left our life," she said in an interview while her husband had tea with visiting U.S. soldiers. "We fled because they were firing mortar shells on us all the time."
His family also was among the first of about 100 to return in January after U.S. soldiers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division cleared out the Sunni insurgents and established a patrol base.
Khidr is a Shiite enclave surrounded by mainly Sunni villages in a rural area long known as the triangle of death.
"What al-Qaida did and in some places the Shia extremists have done is they just decimated the area, they destroyed everything, they scared everyone away," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands American forces south of Baghdad.
The devastated center stands as a monument to the destruction. But the leafy surrounding area is slowly being restored as villagers, mostly potato and tomato farmers, salvage bricks from the rubble to rebuild their houses and their lives.
"With the support of the U.S. Army and the Iraqi government, life is returning gradually," Hussein said. "More farmers are working in the fields now."
The Commission for Resolution of Real Property Disputes (CRRPD) is an independent agency of the Government of Iraq, established to redress certain wrongful takings of real property, including primary rights in rem (e.g. ownership, usage, residence, long-term lease, etc.), during the period from 17 July 1968 to 9 April 2003. The jurisdiction, structure and procedures of operation of the CRRPD are governed by the new Statute of the Commission for Resolution of Real Property Disputes, which annulled CPA Regulation 12, as of 6 March 2006.Clearly the problem will have no simple solution.
Why Participate In the CRRPD Process?
Through the CRRPD process you can:
1) Claim a real property right you lost wrongfully;
2) Confirm your right to the real property you currently use or own; or
3) Defend your right to own or use real property against someone who claims it.
The CRRPD was established to provide a legal mechanism for resolving property disputes in an organized, fair and consistent manner regardless of the parties’ ethnic background, sect, religion, or gender.
If, instead of using the CRRPD process, you return to your property that is occupied by others, and force its occupants to vacate it, you could be committing a criminal offense.
But in at least one case, a former exile should have no trouble establishing his property rights. The LA Times reports:
BAGHDAD — Abu Hassan took deep breaths of joy as he crossed the double-decker bridge spanning the Tigris River. The water below may have stunk of sewage. The air may have been choked with traffic fumes. It didn't matter to Abu Hassan.The return of exiled Iraqis to their homes - from Syria and from within Iraq - is a clear signal of the vast improvement brought about by coalition forces and the cooperative response of Iraqi citizens. Can the trend continue? Those familiar with the situation would probably agree with the NY Times' Mohamed Hussein, formerly exiled in Syria, now reporting from his Baghdad home:
He was free after nearly a year hidden inside his house, the only place he had felt safe from the gunmen and killers who had taken over his neighborhood in south Baghdad.
"To breathe, to see people, to feel that I am still alive," he said recently, recalling his decision that day last winter to drive across the bridge leading from the Dora neighborhood to central Baghdad.
All he did was buy gas, turn around and go back into his house, but Abu Hassan, a Shiite Muslim living in a mainly Sunni Arab area, had taken his first tentative steps back into the world that had terrified him for so long.
"Day by day, things got worse," Abu Hassan said. "The highway was witnessing killings, kidnappings and explosions. It was not possible even for the security forces to put checkpoints in some of its parts. The checkpoints there were always attacked."
The insurgents targeted men and usually left women and the elderly alone, so Abu Hassan went into hiding and his mother and wife, both teachers, went to work, did the shopping and updated him on the world outside: the killings, the bombings, the deterioration of the neighborhood and eventually the turnaround. His wife is a Sunni, which helped ensure her safety, as long as nobody knew her Shiite husband was hiding at home.
From November 2006 until December 2007, he remained inside except for the day he drove across the bridge and the rare times he ventured into his walled garden at night.
To outsiders, it appeared that his house was occupied by only his mother and his wife.
Late last fall, he sensed a change. U.S. forces had been in Baghdad in increased numbers since January 2007. A movement known as the Awakening, which involved Iraqis volunteering to help protect their neighborhoods, was catching on.
"Instead of the news of the killings and violence, we began to hear that this Qaeda leader was killed or that one was detained or had left the area," Abu Hassan said.
The highway became safer, and the sounds of gunfire decreased. Abu Hassan felt the chains loosening.
One day, he washed the dust off his car and drove over the bridge. But then he hurried back to his house.
A few weeks later, though, after hearing of the deaths of some key insurgent leaders in the area, he quietly came out for good.
Now, he has returned to work. A few days ago, he felt confident enough to stand on the street and chat with neighbors. They welcomed him back, thinking he had been out of the country. He let them believe it.
In his neighborhood, shops have reopened and are full of men and women, holding on to their children's hands and browsing through colorful collections of clothes, fruits and vegetables. Iraqi police stand guard at dozens of checkpoints across Dora.
Some people worry that elements of Al Qaeda in Iraq remain in the area. Abu Hassan isn't one of them. He says they have lost their leaders or turned against the insurgency to earn money as guards working alongside U.S. and Iraqi forces.
His main concerns are losing the weight he gained, earning money to help the family recover the savings used during his year of inactivity, and learning to live again.
Now, maybe if we think deeply about it, we will find that each needs the other. People need the soldiers to secure them. At the same time the U.S. troops are now in a safe place, maybe they can have more than one Green Zone.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. The numbers of people returning to Iraq are numbers that matter, and in our next installment you'll see why those numbers have been (and will be) disputed - the final indicator of success in Iraq is also the last hope for those who bet on failure.
Will it stay safe or not?
I guess that all depends on the American troops, since we will not have qualified Iraqi forces soon. Although most Iraqi forces are sincere you find some have been infiltrated by groups of gunmen and sectarian people who made the mess all around us.
So we still need the Americans because if they intend to leave, there will be something like a hurricane which will extract everything - people, buildings and even trees. Everything that has happened and all that safety will be past, just like a sweet dream.
As people say in my neighborhood: “The Americans are now Ansar al Sunna.” Protectors of the Sunni.
Which brings us back to that two billion mentioned above. After he withdraws American forces from Iraq, Barack Obama has pledged to give at a minimum that number of taxpayer dollars to Iraq's "neighboring countries"...
"President Bush likes to warn of the dire consequences of ending the war….he warns of huge movements of refugees and mass sectarian killing, but that has already taken place. These are not the consequences of afuture withdrawal. They are the reality of Iraq’s present. . . . We have a strategic interest – and a moral obligation – to act."To be continued...
Iraq is Facing a Humanitarian Crisis Right Now: There are two million Iraqis displaced in their own country. There are another two million Iraqi refugees living beyond Iraq's borders. More than 1,000 Iraqi civilians die every month. Sectarian death squads roam Baghdad. The humanitarian crisis that President Bush says would accompany American troop withdrawals is occurring right now.
Take Care of Refugees: Barack Obama would establish an international working group dedicated to addressing the Iraqi refugee crisis. He would increase American investments in Iraq's refugees and internally displaced people and to the neighboring countries that house them to at least $2 billion. He would work with Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt to dramatically increase access to social services for refugees. He also would work to create safe-havens for Iraqis who remain in Iraq, but are displaced from their homes by violence.
Arrgghhh! Everything was going along fine in this post until that last section.
Spend $2bn to build housing for refugees in foreign countries (effectively damning them to lives as permanent refugees) when you could help them rebuild their OWN houses at HOME? When they WANT to go HOME?
Head.is.going.to.explode.Posted by MaryAnn at June 6, 2008 12:18 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(1) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)