President George W. Bush did not mention the crisis in public until March of this year, when he said after a meeting with King Abdullah II that the Jordanian monarch had "pointed out something which I knew, but I wasn't exactly sure how it was affecting his country, that there are roughly three-quarters of a million Iraqi citizens who have moved to Jordan."
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin has presided over hearings on the crisis as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission. "I think the United States is trying to keep this out of the limelight," the Maryland Democrat says. "They're trying to show positive developments in Iraq, and they know that if they highlight the people who are dislocated refugees, that's an issue that they don't know how to deal with."
Officials on all sides say their goal is a peaceful and secure Iraq to which the displaced may return voluntarily. Resettlement in a third country is considered an option for only a small percentage of the most vulnerable; the majority are expected to remain where they are until conditions permit their safe return. But in this as in other refugee crises, resettlements are seen by advocates and others as a tangible measure of the international commitment.
Foley and his Department of Homeland Security counterpart, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services associate director Lori Scialabba, were appointed in September 2007 in part to fulfill the administration's goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqis by the end of September of this year.
The final tally was 13,823. In September, Foley said the system now in place should permit the entry of at least 17,000 more by the end of September 2009. The rest of the world - Canada, Australia, Sweden and other European countries - has resettled fewer than 6,000 Iraqis.
The nearly $400million that the United States spent in support of Iraqis last year helped buy food for refugees in Syria, set up medical clinics in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and pay for books, uniforms and transportation for students in Jordan.
Foley is calling on other governments to increase their support. He argues that for countries with means to ignore the needs of the refugees is neither realistic nor responsible.
"The fate of these people and of this region affects everyone in the region and in the world at large," he says. "And so we have to do a better job of persuading them that finger-pointing at the U.S. is not an answer, it's not a policy, it's not a response."
Foley, like officials in Syria and Jordan, is also pressing Iraq to contribute. While a committee of the Iraqi parliament is pushing for $4billion next year to support Iraqi citizens abroad, the policy of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been to encourage them to come home.
"The responsibility of the Iraqi government is to facilitate the process of returning to Iraq, not to make it easier for the Iraqis to stay here in Syria," says Adnan al-Sharafy, an official at the Iraqi Embassy in Damascus.
Iraqi officials have offered payments and organized flights and bus rides from Cairo and Damascus for refugees to go back. But with continuing violence in the country and no effective system in place to resolve disputes between returning homeowners and squatters, neither the United States, the United Nations nor refugee advocates are encouraging returns.
Foley described the financial incentives and free transportation as "far short of what will be required."
"The Iraqi government's unwillingness thus far to significantly share the international burden of assisting the refugees would perhaps become more understandable if it were undertaking a serious and credible effort to prepare for large-scale returns," he says.
The coalition of advocates is calling on the United States to increase its support for Iraqis in the region to $1.35billion in 2009 while admitting 105,500 Iraqis for resettlement.
"We agree that there should be an international response," says Younes of Refugees International. "But what we have been saying from the very beginning is that the U.S. cannot expect others to step in until it shows strong leadership.
"It has started doing that. It has increased its response. It needs to continue in that direction and increase substantially."
John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, disagrees, saying the United States has been generous in response to the refugee crisis. "It was not the responsibility of the United States to turn the entire Iraqi population into a client of welfare because of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein," says Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He objects to what he described as an inclination by some toward "blaming every consequence of the overthrow of Saddam on the United States."
"A lot of things flowed from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, including the unleashing of animosities within the Iraqi population that had existed for decades under Baath Party rule if not for centuries because of the split within Islam," he says. "Now, that has resulted in some undoubtedly unhappy and even tragic consequences. But that doesn't mean that the United States is responsible for each and every one of those consequences."
Denis Halliday, a former U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, has been a vocal critic not only of the war but of U.S. policy toward Iraq dating to the U.N. embargo from 1991 to 2003 - he was the first U.N. official to track Iraqis killed by U.S. and British fliers patrolling the no-fly zones between the first and second Iraq wars. He says the United States must take "full responsibility for what's happened to this country."
"The U.S. needs to pay, in my view, massive compensation to this country," he says. "And much of that, if paid up now in advance and quickly as possible, could be used to rehabilitate the conditions and the needs and the services to bring people back into the country. ...
"Once that is in motion, I'm quite convinced, and we've seen some already, there will be neighbors, the Iranians, the Kuwaitis, Saudis and others will undoubtedly put in money and other resources. But the leadership has got to come from those responsible for the calamity. And that is absolutely and only the United States of America."
TomorrowIn Baltimore, Iraqi professionals face multiple frustrations as they try to begin their lives anew.
About the seriesBaltimore Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown traveled to Syria and Jordan on a World Affairs Journalism Fellowship funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and administered by the International Center for Journalists. More information is available at www.pulitzercenter.org and www.icfj.org.
In recent years, United Nations officials say, when refugees have been identified by name in the Western news media, their families in Iraq have been threatened or harmed. The Sun permitted many of the refugees interviewed for these articles to adopt assumed names to protect their relatives in Iraq.
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