Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Militias in Iraq ***Are*** the Government!

Uprooted and Unstable: Meeting Urgent Humanitarian Needs in Iraq

By Kristele Younes & Nir Rosen

New report from Refugees International

If you wonder what is happening in Iraq, rather than listening to Congressional testimony, just read the new report from Refugees International. It focuses on the plight of the roughly one-sixth of the Iraqi population that has, since the U.S. invasion, been forced to flee from its home. Many key points of the report deal specifically with the directly related nature of governance in Iraq today. Some key points:

Five years into the US military intervention in Iraq, the country is
dealing with one of the largest humanitarian and displacement crises
in the world.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2.7 million Iraqis are internally displaced, 1.5 million of them after the Samarra bombings of February 2006. The needs of the displaced are not adequately addressed by the Government of
Iraq or the international community. This vacuum is quickly being filled by militias and other armed groups
, who engage in hearts and minds campaigns and provide assistance as a means of building support for their political and military goals.

In addressing security concerns in Iraq, the US is failing to take into
consideration the needs of the cvilian population and the consequences of leaving these needs unmet.

As for the Iraqi government, it resembles the rest of the country. Fragmented and torn apart by sectarian rivalries and corruption, it is unable and unwilling to use its important resources to respond appropriately to the humanitarian crisis. The security situation is
far from stable, and the likelihood of further displacement is high. In
this environment, returns of displaced Iraqis should not be encouraged, and measures must be taken to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to deal with all possible contingencies….

Shiite and Sunni Militias:
Filling the Assistance Gap

Refugees International visited many locations inhabited by displaced families throughout Baghdad. Many live in makeshift homes, water leaks on them in the rain, livestock graze in mounds of garbage where
barefoot children play, dirt roads are flooded with sewage. Many have little access to clean water or
electricity. Assistance is scarce. As a result of the importance of non-state actors in the delivery of assistance and security, civilians are joining militias, whether the Mahdi Army or Sunni militias.

Displaced Iraqis are no exception. In need of an array of services, and often led by the desire to “belong” to their new communities, increasing numbers of displaced men are now members of these armed groups.
The Government of Iraq shows little capacity or willingness to deal with the displacement crisis, which angers international governments
that provide funding for humanitarian assistance and prevents them from adopting a more proactive approach to the humanitarian crisis.

Refugees International met with a representative from a donor government who expressed dismay at the fact that the Government of Iraq has billions of unspent dollars that have yet to be allocated to the
humanitarian response. A European donor told RI that the Ministry of Finance does not want to release funds, and that many Ministries do not have anyone in charge. According to a UN official in Baghdad,
“Iraqi Government institutions can’t spend money properly because they have no staff.” One telling example is Iraq’s Committee for Disarmament, which has a 35 million dollar budget, and a staff of

Because of the Government of Iraq’s inability to respond to the needs
of Iraqis, and the UN ’s slowness in addressing the humanitarian
crisis in Iraq, a vacuum was created that is being filled by non-state actors.
The fragmentation of Iraq and the eradication of any form of real government benefit militias and individual political movements
that provide assistance as an integral part of their programs. As a
result, non-state actors play a central role in providing assistance to
families throughout Iraq. The largest “humanitarian” organization in Iraq is the Sadrist movement affiliated with Muqtada al Sadr, the
anti-American Shiite cleric, and his local Offices of the Martyr Sadr,
which exist throughout Iraq — from Kirkuk to Baghdad to Basra.
Operating on a model similar to the Lebanese Hezbollah, his sustainable program provides shelter, food and non-food items to hundreds of thousands of Shiites in Iraq….

As part of its assistance programs, the Mahdi Army — Muqtada al Sadr’s armed group — also “resettles” displaced Iraqis free of charge in homes that belonged to Sunnis. It provides stipends, food, heating oil, cooking oil and other non-food items to supplement the Public
Distribution System (PDS ) rations which are still virtually impossible to transfer after displaced Iraqis have moved to a new neighborhood, though it is easier for Shiites to do so. Even when the displaced succeed
in transferring them, they find that, because of rampant corruption and banditry on the roads, they do not get more than fifty percent
of what the rations used to contain. 80% of the population of Iraq was dependent on the Public Distribution System before 2003.

Refugees International visited an office of the Sadr movement in the Ur district of Baghdad. The office provided locals with clothing, milk, oil, rice, sugar, clothes and fuel for heating and cooking when supplies are available. The central government does not play any role in that area. Locals even come to the Sadr office for the adjudication of legal disputes. The office also provides stipends to displaced families and the families of slain or imprisoned Mahdi Army men.

Sunni militias play a similar role with displaced and other needy
Sunnis. They too settle the displaced in homes that belonged to Shiites. There is less organized help for Sunnis, but the Islamic Party — the
main Sunni political Party in the Government — is an important service provider, distributing food and non-food items, providing medical relief and supporting local NG Os. Sunni militias also handle the distribution of key items such as heating gas. As Sunnis in Baghdad
get virtually no electricity or other services from the government, they rely on local militias and warlords to secure their areas and manage what services they can obtain.

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