Friday, November 30, 2007

Sweden's Iraqi Refugee Trafficking Business

Here is an investigative report on the multi-million dollar Iraqi refugee trafficking business that was aired on a Swedish radio station and translated by the Assyrian International News Agency. Thousands of Iraqis, mostly from Syria and Jordan, but also from Iraq, pay smugglers about 10-15 thousand dollars to get them to Sweden, where they apply for asylum and then bring their family members (nine out of ten Iraqi applicants receive asylum). Many of my friends and relatives have taken that route out of desperation despite the high risk of fraud and it was something we also considered for my brother Nabil this year. I know some people in Iraq and Jordan who are trying to save enough money to make the same arduous trip across Europe.

Some excerpts:

"In Damascus we meet Mikhael yet again. He is waiting for information about how the trip will be arranged. He has come up with the money by selling everything that he owned and had. To him -- as to most others -- there is no way back. When we meet him again he has just had contact with yet another smuggler who transports people between Turkey and Greece, hidden in an UN truck. -- That is where Mikhael will be hidden in a large wooden box together with 8 others.

He said that I have to pay him seven thousand dollars for it, and he said that he only takes seven to eight people every time. They will put them in a box, cover it, and make a small hole in the box in order to let air in so that one can breathe. Then they will put the box in the middle of the truck. Even if they stop the truck they would not discover the box, since it is in the middle of the truck platform. It is a truck which will bring things for the UN, from Turkey to Greece, and from Greece to Turkey."


***

"A man we met our first night in Damascus has decided to bring all his family with him on the journey. He does not dare to leave his wife and his children -- three and five years old. He has already bought the trip -- they will climb down inside the tank of a tanker with about forty other men, women and children. There they will hide during the journey over the mountains between Turkey and Greece, a trip which takes 24 hours. He has shifty eyes when I wonder how he will make a small three-year-old be quiet inside the steel tank for twenty four hours. He quietly says that it has to work, this is the only way out, because here in Damascus the money is running out, everything only gets more and more expensive."


***

"Another refugee, Mohammed, is a Sunni Muslim and was threatened to death by Mujahideen, the Islamic militia in his home district of Dora in Baghdad. He does not dare to meet us in public, so we meet in a lumber room behind a café. Five times Mohammed has tried to escape to Europe, but has been left by the smugglers on the road between Turkey and Greece.

He has had the maximum of bad luck. Three times he has been left at the border and been arrested. Twice he succeeded in passing the border, but the promised truck did not show up. No trucks came. He had been deceived by the smugglers. They had bluffed. Every time he was arrested he had to spend ten days in custody. Every time he lied, and said that he was a Palestinian. Had he said the truth, that he was an Iraqi, he would have been deported.

Now Mohammed tries to earn money for yet another trip, but it is hard because the prices are increasing all the time. There is no guarantee that he will not be deceived once again, because deceiving desperate refugees has also become a business. We meet many -- both in Damascus and in Sweden -- who have been deceived by smugglers, or people claiming to be smugglers, into paying large sums of money."


More.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How Much Safer is Baghdad Now?

"But a main point of contention for Shiites is the Sunni guards now on the US military's payroll. Many Shiites refused to join a Shiite version of the US-sponsored guards program, saying it's the job of security forces – not individual former fighters – to keep the peace.

"I find the US military's solution foolish and simplistic … they are putting fuel next to fire," says Alaa Oweid, another lawyer, who has shunned the proposed reconciliation council. "What's the logic of rewarding the criminals by paying them, dressing them in uniforms, and telling them to protect the neighborhood?""

More.

By the way, is it not curious how the U.S. media for the large part has conveniently ignored the so-called "friendship and cooperation treaty" signed by the U.S. and Maliki's government? It passed at a time when the majority of Iraqi parliament opposes an extension of US occupation without a clear timetable for withdrawal. I thought the American line all along was that improvement in security, if it can be called so, would signal the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, not extend it to years with plans for permanent bases and "investment" opportunities. Right?

Will the U.S. population and media conveniently go to sleep again when the time comes to wage the next war?

Monday, November 26, 2007

DM Shiite seeks VGL SF for love

"We'd been on the phone only a few minutes and already there was a potential glitch in our relationship. Suddenly, I realized the problems of trying to court someone in a Sunni neighborhood. First, I would have to win over her parents, convincing them I was OK despite being divorced and a Shiite. Then, I would have to bring my Shiite parents into a Sunni district to meet their potential in-laws and convince them they would not fall into the hands of sectarian killers along the way."

More.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Study of Iraqis in Jordan

The Norwegian FAFO Institute for Applied International Studies has finally published its study of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, concluding that an estimated 450,000 to 500,000 Iraqis currently live in Jordan--about a third less than the widely-accepted 750,000 figure, circulated by the UN, the Jordanian government, and the media.

The estimate was based on Jordanian immigration statistics, the number of Iraqi cell phone subscribers, and FAFO's household survey of Iraqis conducted in May 2007. FAFO, which undertook the study at the request of the Jordanian government, has not disclosed the number of Iraqis polled in the survey nor did it give a margin of error in the study.

Key findings:

-The survey showed that 68% of the Iraqis polled were Sunni Muslim, 17% were Shia Muslims, and 12% were Christians. Ethnically, 86.5% were Arab, 2.6% Kurd, 4.9% Kildani (Chaldean Catholic), 3.3% Ashurian (Assyrian Church of the East), 1.1% Turkomen, 0.9% Assyriani (Syriac Catholic and Orthodox), 0.6% Armenian (Orthodox and Catholic), and 0.1% other (Yezidi and Mandaean).

-Migration of Iraqis to Jordan is predominately a migration of families, 77% of which arrived after 2003, with the highest volume of population movement taking place in 2004 and 2005, according to Jordanian border authorities (this obviously does not take into count the Iraqis who were denied entry and turned back at the border or airport during 2006 and 2007--it would be interesting to see figures for that).

-The majority of the Iraqi community in Jordan is from Baghdad (76% from Baghdad, 7% from Basrah, 3% from Anbar, and 2% from Ninewa) and currently residing in the capital Amman. The community is almost exclusively urban.

-Iraqis in Jordan are well educated (over half have higher education degrees) and 22% of Iraqi adults in Jordan work. Close to 70% of the Iraqi population in Jordan is in working age (15+); of these, about 30% are participating in the work force (Only 15% of Iraqi women, who head one out of every five Iraqi households in Jordan, particularly poorer households, are working).

-The majority of Iraqis live on savings or receive money transfers from Iraq or abroad (42% receive transfers from Iraq). The poorest households are more dependent on income from employment, whereas the more wealthy households have a higher dependency on income from self employment and on transfers from Iraq. The middle wealth groups are the ones that have the least income from employment and are hence the most dependent on money transfers from outside Jordan.

-One in every five Iraqis has concrete plans to emigrate to a third country. A wish to go to a third country is found in all parts of the population, but it is particularly true for the poorer part and non-Muslim communities.

-More than 95% of those that wish to return to Iraq say that they will not
return to Iraq before the security situation allows for it. Plans to go back to Iraq are particularly seen among the Iraqi population with high levels of resources,
economically and with concern to high education, among the Muslim population and among the ones that came in 2006 and 2007 (late arrivals).

-Two of three Iraqi households have children under the age of 18 years as members (78% of Iraqi children between the ages of 7 and 17 are enrolled in school, with less than 60% for the poorer population). The average size of an Iraqi household in Jordan is 4.1 persons.

-The majority of the Iraqi population is 25 years of age and above (56%), 26% of the population is below 15 years of age and the remaining 18 percent are between 15 and 25 years of age.

-Respondents indicate two main reasons for remaining in Jordan; about half of the Iraqi population gives the difficult security situation as their main reason, particularly among men and non-Muslim communities. The second most important reason is family reunion; 38% of all Iraqis give this as their main reason for remaining in the country. The rest say they came for work.

-About 56% of Iraqis say they have a valid permit to stay legally in Jordan (80% of the wealthy population has permits, but only 22% of the poorest part).

There is more information on FAFO's website, including sample questionnaires and notes on their survey methodology.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Inside the Surge

A remarkable piece of journalism by the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson on some of the "Awakening" movements in western Baghdad--particularly Ghazaliya--and the dynamics of intra-Shi'ite violence in neighbouring areas.

Some parts that stand out:

A few days before General Petraeus testified before Congress, I met with Sheikh Zaidan al-Awad, a prominent Sunni tribal leader from Anbar. The last time I had seen him, in 2004, he was full of hostile bluster about the U.S., and made no secret of his identification with the “resistance,” as he described the hard-line Sunni insurgents. Sheikh Zaidan was a fugitive, suspected by the Americans of being a sponsor of the insurgency, and he was living in voluntary exile in Jordan. But when we spoke this fall, in an apartment in Amman, Zaidan told me that he had recently met for informal talks with American military and intelligence officials, because he approved of what they were now doing—allowing Sunni tribesmen to police themselves.

I asked Zaidan what sort of deal had led to the Sunni Awakening. “It’s not a deal,” he said, bristling. “People have come to realize that our fate is tied to the Americans’, and theirs to ours. If they are successful in Iraq, it will depend on Anbar. We always said this. Time was lost. America was lost, but now it’s woken up; it now holds a thread in its hand. For the first time, they’re doing something right.”

Zaidan said that Anbar’s Sunni tribes no longer had any need to exact blood vengeance on U.S. forces. “We’ve already taken our revenge,” he said. “We’re the ones who’ve made them crawl on their stomachs, and now we’re the ones to pick them up.” He added, “Once Anbar is settled, we must take control of Baghdad, and we will.” There would have to be a lot more fighting before the capital was taken back from the Shiites, he said. “The Anbaris will take charge of the purge. What the whole world failed to do in Anbar, we have done overnight. Baghdad will be a lot easier.”

. . .

Tribal vendettas have been an underlying feature of the Iraq war since it began. Amar’s story may be unusual in the scale of his ambitions—a hundred men for his brother—but such crimes are common. At least some of the initial impetus for Iraq’s insurgency came in the spring of 2003, when American troops in Falluja shot and killed seventeen demonstrators, and kinsmen of the dead sought revenge by killing Americans. In tribal families, it is often the matriarch who encourages the vendetta, as Amar’s mother did.

Um Jafaar is a handsome, elderly woman. When I arrived at her home, with Karim, she was wearing a black abaya, and I noticed blue tribal tattoos on her chin and her hands. She invited me to sit down on a couch, and sat next to me in an armchair. Jafaar’s three young daughters were watching us. When I asked Um Jafaar if she wanted revenge for her son’s death, she got up from her chair, came over, and kissed the top of my head.

“Yes, I want revenge,” she said. “I am a mother, and I lost my son for nothing.” She began weeping, great wracking sobs. When she recovered, Um Jafaar pointed to her granddaughters. “Look, they have no father,” she said. “Why?”

Um Jafaar went on to tell me that she took the body parts of Amar’s victims, wrapped in cloth, to his grave, in the holy city of Najaf, and buried them there. “I talk to my son, I tell him, ‘Here, this is from those who killed you, I take revenge.’ ” Moving one hand in a horizontal circle, she said, “I put them around the grave. So far, I have taken one hand, one eye, an Adam’s apple, toes, fingers, ears, and noses.” (Karim told me that the hand had made the house stink for days.) I asked her how many Mahdi men Amar had killed. “I don’t know: eighteen, twenty? But still my heart hurts. Even if we kill all of them, I won’t have comfort,” she said.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Meet Abu Abed: the US's new ally against al-Qaida



Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
November 10, 2007

...

A senior Sunni sheikh, whose tribe is joining the new alliance with the Americans against al-Qaida, told me in Beirut that it was a simple equation for him. "It's just a way to get arms, and to be a legalised security force to be able to stand against Shia militias and to prevent the Iraqi army and police from entering their areas," he said.

"The Americans lost hope with an Iraqi government that is both sectarian and dominated by militias, so they are paying for locals to fight al-Qaida. It will create a series of warlords.

"It's like someone who brought cats to fight rats, found himself with too many cats and brought dogs to fight the cats. Now they need elephants."

...

Abu Abed told me of his grand dreams. "Ameriya is just the beginning. After we finish with al-Qaida here, we will turn toward our main enemy, the Shia militias. I will liberate Jihad [a Sunni area next to Ameriya taken over by the Mahdi army] then Saidiya and the whole of west Baghdad."

More.