The Iraq Crisis – Beyond ISIS

refugeesBy Alyn Smith

As a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the Parliament’s Iraq and Arabian Delegations, you can imagine the situation in Iraq has been centre stage of my workload lately. I despair that the real story, and the causes of events, are being ignored in the ever more dramatic yet context-free day-to-day reportage of the military campaign against ISIS, the siege of Kobane or whatever events (all of them important, don’t get me wrong) are being covered. But if you are looking for analysis of how this state of affairs came to be or how we might even start to help you’ll be left wanting.

But it is not that the information is not out there, and publicly available. My delegation heard this week from a series of charities, refugee organisations and others how the humanitarian disaster is bleak and getting worse. In a land where so many are so desperate, so frightened and afraid, it is no wonder that so many are turning to any source of stability, however unpalatable.

Iraq has, still, an enormous level of religious and ethnic diversity: the history of many minority groups in the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ goes back for thousands of years. Many areas, home to these minorities since before the birth of written history, are now almost deserted.
The rights of these groups, already precarious under a sort of democratic but deeply sectarian Iraqi Government that has systematically failed to uphold protections for its minority communities, have been greatly worsened as central authority has broken down altogether and that vacuum been filled by various extremist groups, ISIS being just one of many.

The scale of the resulting refugee crisis is almost beyond comprehension. The UN estimates that 2 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the start of the year, half of them in just the last three months. They join a further 1.2 million ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) already uprooted, and a sizeable number of refugees from neighbouring Syria.

Mr Eugenio Ambrosi of the International Organisation for Migration warns that an estimated 5.2 million people – roughly equivalent to the whole population of Scotland – are in urgent need of our help. They include not just refugees and IDPs, but also local communities struggling to cope with the strain of their vast refugee populations, all of which require food, shelter and social services.

Such is the strain on local communities that a great deal of displaced persons have had to move repeatedly, barely settling in one place before having to migrate further. A quarter of IDPs are living in ‘critical’ conditions without minimum living standards; less than half have access to healthcare, contributing to a high rate of chronic disease; and two-thirds of children have no access to education.

Iraqi authorities are talking of the risk of “losing a generation or more” in a crisis whose effects will be felt for decades to come.
We can help. Again and again I hear humanitarian organisations talking about the same logistical problems. They are underfunded – of the US$2.2 billion of funding earmarked for the crisis for the 2014-15 period, only $160 million of that pledged by non-government donors has been received. They demand a greater level of EU and UN coordination, pointing out that those states that do not want to take part in the military coalition can still contribute to humanitarian efforts.

It is also important that we provide aid for all of those affected by the conflict in Iraq. At least a further 193,000 Iraqi refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Syria are among those who must not be forgotten in any attempt to provide help. Areas under ISIS control have not received any humanitarian aid at all. The UNHCR estimates it has been able to provide 559,000 internally displaced persons with sufficient shelter and non-food aid to prepare for the coming winter: compared with the 2 million displaced in 2014 so far, this is not very many.

Above all, given the humanitarian crisis on our hands, it is imperative that EU member states pay no heed to any suggestions, often voiced by the far right, that asylum seekers should be turned away or refugees returned to Iraq. The country is overburdened and cannot cope with the strain of those refugees and IDPs it already has. To send back those who arrive at our shores, in the words of Vincent de Longeaux of the ‘Fraternity in Iraq’ association, would be tantamount to sending them to their deaths.

Equally, we cannot pretend that those already receiving aid in Iraq are now safe, because they decidedly are not. They need our continued support, even beyond this current conflict.

The European Union, and the Western world as a whole, cannot talk the talk when it comes to military intervention while neglecting the equally pressing humanitarian situation, which is actually now the root cause of the growth in extremism. We have a duty to act, and to provide for the people of Iraq every bit as much as we take away from their oppressors in ISIS and other extremist groups.



Categories: International

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7 replies

  1. Great article, thank you. The information is out there, but finding some of it here is helpful too.

  2. Foreign affairs has always been my number one interest, indeed fascination. I have lived in various European countries and in South America. The latter has made good progress over the last 40 years from the dark days of the 70’s when there was much conflict: dictatorships in Argentina, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Brasil with revolutionary movements opposing them leading to bloody repression. While Latin America has moved on with big improvements in human rights and on the economic front.

    The Middle East, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction. Yes, while you could argue that some of their travails have been down to foreign intervention, especially by the US, much of their troubles are the fault of their own religious and political intolerance that has characterized the region.

    Is there a decent country in North Africa or the near east that others could look up to and emulate? I, for the life of me, can’t think of one. From the borders of Pakistan, looking more and more like a failed state every day, through the nightmare that is Afghanistan, to George Galloway’s favourite, the human rights disaster that is the theocracy of Iran, crossing into the rivers of blood countries like Iraq and Syria, the tyranny that is Egypt, the tinderbox that is Lebanon and onward, westward into Libya and Algeria and southward down through the filthy rich cesspit that is Saudi and into more chaos that is Yemen and then on to Somalia, it is a picture of chaos. And the turmoil can’t all be down to Yankee meddling.

    Few commentators mention the schism that has existed for hundreds of years in the Islamic world, namely the Sunni/Shi-ite rivalry, guided by the great rivals in Teheran and Riyadh. They are deadly enemies and have become more and more powerful over the years. It is simplistic to blame the West, therefore, for their catastrophic problems. It seems as though, nevertheless, have to pick up the bill.

    • Yes, Gonzalo 1, you’ve put it quite succinctly; and in terms that, while some might flinch at the imagery, really do paint a picture that I guess probably ‘tells it like it is’ effectively. I think there is a degree of responsibility to be shouldered by ‘the West’, going way beyond the latter-day US & Allies interventions over the last 20 years or so (eg, during early last century, see Barr, J (2012) ‘A Line in the Sand’, describing esp Britain’s and France’s actions in the Middle East, during and after WW1); but – all the same – ‘it takes two to tango’ and ‘we’ certainly didn’t *cause* all of the present mayhem. What to do about it, though, is my primary focus; and, like a lady contributor further down this page, *mairmaccallum*, I think that one of the least things we *could* and *should* do is – at least – to offer some relief by taking-in refugees from the Middle East, to the UK/Scotland. I would regard it a privilege to be able to assist in such an endeavour (and have wondered, for example, how I could use my own background, which has been quite varied but latterly as a mental-health professional) to facilitate that sort of programme.

    • Hi gonzalo1,

      Thank you for your reply – indeed, you make an excellent comparison between the relative progress made in South America compared to the Middle East and North Africa.

      There is one country I can think of which stands out as a model fledgling democracy for the region, and that is Tunisia. Tunisia’s progress since the revolution in 2011 has been an excellent example for their less fortunate neighbours, and although there are still many problematic areas (in terms of unemployment and the economy, for example), we have reason to be optimistic about the future. It bucks the trend and proves that political instability and religious extremism are by no means inevitable in the region. Alyn recently visited Tunisia and wrote this article about the situation there:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/alyn-smith/tunisia-arab-spring_b_6218696.html

      Internal troubles have certainly contributed to a fair bit of the instability we see throughout the Middle East: the minority groups in Iraq mentioned in this article have been subject to discrimination and persecution under successive regimes for decades, if not centuries. But in Europe we have an example of a previously war-torn continent that has overcome its history and its rivalries, and now we have the opportunity to do what we can to help others less fortunate than ourselves.

      Of course, it is also very much in our interests in Europe to have friendly and stable countries around our borders. We live in an interconnected world, and any developments to better protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Middle East will have benefits much further afield.

      Best regards,
      Alyn Smith’s office

  3. Reblogged this on The Property Gazette and commented:
    The humanitarian crisis and the gradual and persistent elimination of minorities in Iraq is an aspect of the IS onslaught that would remain under reported for quite some time.

  4. Surely we in Scotland can propose to help by taking in, giving refuge to a proportion at least of some of these desperate people? Could we think about how; could we think about where, come up with some practical ideas about how to help save at least some of what will undoubtedly otherwise become a complete ‘lost generation’?

    I’m at a loss as to why we are not already proposing to do more…

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