Sunday, March 23, 2008

War’s toll on Iraqis neglected

Columbia Daily Tribune
Published Sunday, March 23, 2008
This appeared Thursday in Newsday.

Five years into the Iraq war, much of America’s focus has been on the nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers who have died, the $600 billion in tax money spent and the projected tab of $3 trillion.

Those figures are a staggering reminder of how much the war has cost us in blood and treasure. But often lost in our debate and fading coverage is the toll the U.S. invasion has taken on the Iraqi people.

Granted, life under Saddam Hussein was bleak, but the Iraqi people didn’t ask for this war. It was thrust upon them. Then they were left to dodge the bullets or flee.

Thanks to the failure of the Bush administration to plan for the aftermath of "shock and awe," much of Iraq has been destroyed and the lives of those Iraqis still breathing turned upside down.
Iraq’s Ministry of Health estimates 180,000 Iraqis have been killed in the fighting, and a controversial study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University placed the number at more than 600,000.

Either figure is a travesty.

An estimated 2 million Iraqis have been displaced inside the country and another 2 million have fled, mainly to Jordan and Syria. In all, about 14 percent of Iraqis have left their homes since the war began.

Most of the uprooted are children. Many went to live in tent cities that lacked power and water. But as the garbage and sewage piled up, many have escaped the fetid camps. Even as the daily violence has dropped, the United Nations warned refugees not to return because of continued safety concerns. As a result, more and more Iraqis are looking for a viable option. The number of Iraqis seeking asylum doubled to 45,200 last year over 2006.

In fact, more Iraqis are seeking asylum than applicants from any other country, including China. That’s saying something, given Iraq’s population, at about 27 million, is just a few million more than Texas’.

Many asylum-seekers want to come to America. Only about 2,000 Iraqi refugees have been admitted into the United States this fiscal year; 12,000 slots are authorized. Given that the United States caused their strife, we have a moral obligation to allow more Iraqis to come here, even as we rebuild their country.

For those who remain in Iraq, life in many respects is worse than it was under Hussein. Jobless estimates range from 20 to more than 60 percent. About 9 million Iraqis live in poverty. There are long lines at gas stations; electricity is available only a few hours a day; and food shortages have worsened.

Before the war, Vice President Dick Cheney predicted U.S. troops would be greeted "as liberators." Five years later, the only calls from the Iraqis are for help.

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