Casting Doubt on the Political Success of the Surge

Here is Juan Cole’s take on the following article:

The US troop escalation that began last February seems to be implicated in the displacement of over one million Iraqis to Syria between March and October of this year, adding to the nearly 450,000 that fled there in 2006. This is according to projections from a United Nations weighted survey of nearly 800 refugees. Some 78% of those interviewed in Syria said that they came from Baghdad.

Many of the refugees are from the white collar middle class, and are the people Iraq can least afford to lose. Most of them are only 3 months or less from exhausting all their saving and being thrown into complete destitution. Children are not being educated, and literacy is falling dramatically in the next generation. Many girls are forced into ‘survival sex,’ i.e. prostitution.

How the US ‘surge’ drove one million Iraqis to Syria last spring and summer is a great mystery, and casts severe doubt on its political success. A significant proportion of these one million Surge Victims appear to have been Baghdad Sunnis, since from January of 2007 through July 2007 the US military admits that Baghdad went from being 65% Shiite to being 75% Shiite. Since another 500,000 left between July and October, depending on what proportion of those were Sunnis, Baghdad could now be even more than 3/4s Shiite. The Sunnis are not going to take this lying down, and the ‘surge’ seems to me to have set the stage for 1) a violent return of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs to their usurped homes in Baghdad and 2) therefore a second Battle for Baghdad as soon as the US forces in Iraq are too weak to prevent it.


Survey: Many Iraqis in Syria fled during U.S. troop buildup
By Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers

CAIRO, Egypt — One in five Iraqi refugees in Syria has been tortured or suffered from other violence, and more than a third fled their homeland between July and October, at the height of the U.S. troop buildup that was intended to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad, preliminary data from a new United Nations study show.

The survey also found that the refugee population is highly educated — nearly a third have university degrees, including master’s and doctorates — and that many refugees are only weeks away from exhausting their savings.

The survey, which the IPSOS market research firm conducted in October and November, is the most comprehensive study to date of the 1.5 million Iraqis who’ve sought safety in Syria from the sectarian violence at home. The results are based on interviews with 754 refugees, who were asked detailed questions that ranged from whether they’d been hit by grenades to how they treat their children’s illnesses. Full results are expected in early January.

The U.N. survey includes special questions about trauma that researchers from Harvard University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hope will help them determine for the first time the extent to which the violence in Iraq has damaged the mental health and stability of the war’s survivors.

The survey may provide some insight into the impact of U.S. actions. The preliminary results suggest that as American forces moved into Baghdad’s neighborhoods to establish security, large numbers of Iraqis moved out.

Of the refugees polled, 78 percent said they’d come from Baghdad, which has been the focus of military operations since the U.S. troop buildup began last February. Thirty-five percent said they’d fled between July and October, when U.S. troop strength peaked. Another 30 percent said they’d fled to Syria last year, as violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims intensified.

More than half the survey’s participants said they’d received direct threats or had lived through bombings. Eleven percent had been assaulted and 6 percent had been kidnapped.

The number of refugees with missing or dead relatives has risen steadily in the past four years; 54 percent had dead or missing family members this year, up from 22 percent last year. Murder was cited as the No. 1 cause of death, listed in 78 percent of the cases in the U.N. survey. A majority of respondents, 62 percent, blamed sectarian militias for the deaths. Twenty-eight percent listed “unknown” and 2 percent listed “al Qaida.”

Sybella Wilkes, the Damascus-based U.N. spokeswoman on refugee issues, said the survey’s results on financial instability confirmed the observations of field workers, who’d noticed new levels of desperation among the most recent Iraqi refugees. Forty percent have been living in Syria for less than a year, according to the survey, and they’re finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

“We’ve seen the poorest of the poor here,” Wilkes said. “We’re seeing more homelessness, child labor, survival sex, early marriage and temporary marriage. The floodgates opened in 2006, and the Iraqis who’ve come since then have been much poorer” than earlier waves of refugees.

Thirty-three percent of the Iraqis surveyed predicted that they’d run out of money within three months, while a quarter of the refugees depend on remittances from relatives in Iraq or abroad. Nearly all refugees are renters, and 71 percent of them live with other family members in apartments with two to four rooms. Nearly a quarter of respondents lived in one-room housing.

Groceries are a top expense, and most respondents said they hadn’t received any food assistance from the U.N. or other agencies. Rice and lentils were listed as the most-needed staples. As of November, 51,000 Iraqis in Syria receive monthly food baskets from the U.N.’s World Food Program.

Education is another troubling issue. Less than 3 percent of the Iraqi adults surveyed were illiterate, and 35 percent of them had attended universities. But dropout rates among school-aged refugees have more than doubled since May, from 21 percent to 46 percent. Of those who’ve dropped out, 19 percent are working.

Health care also is precarious. Although an estimated 19,000 refugees registered with the U.N. have chronic illnesses, 19 percent aren’t taking medication because they can’t afford it.

The survey indicates that Iraqis are losing faith in their prospects of resettlement abroad and are focusing more on survival in Syria. The number of refugees who said they’d registered with the U.N. primarily for the chance of resettlement dropped from 27 percent last May to 15 percent in November. About half now say their main reason for registering is to obtain refugee certificates, which help them gain food assistance and school vouchers in Syria.

Source, with links to UN source document

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