An Iraqi debt

The Baltimore Sun

Violence is significantly lower these days in Iraq, and the Americans who still keep the peace there are busy planning for a significant troop withdrawal over the next 18 months. But that country's hopes for a brighter economic future are shadowed by the loss of more than 2 million refugees - many of them doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers - who have fled to Jordan, Syria and other neighboring countries.

Most of these displaced people are afraid to return to Iraq, which they believe remains unsafe. Now they are trapped in countries where they are less than welcome and sinking into poverty. It's a plight laid out in vivid detail in a recent series of stories by Baltimore Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown.

Their continued exile represents a challenge that America has a responsibility to deal with. The United States has resettled more than 16,000 Iraqis over the past two years. The Bush administration has contributed more than $500 million to the United Nations and other organizations to address the crisis. But as the country that unleashed the chaos that fed the Iraqi exodus, America should be doing much more.

During last year's presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to provide at least $2 billion to expand services to these Iraqi refugees, and that's a pledge he must keep, if this nation is to accept its moral responsibility to help victims of the war.

Beyond morality, the United States has a national security interest in helping these refugees. If they remain where they are without help, their unhappy presence is certain to breed long-term anger toward the United States that could produce another generation of terrorists.

Jordan and Syria, now host to more than three-quarters of the refugees, are struggling with serious economic and social pressures caused by their presence. Costs of housing, fuel and food have been driven higher, schools are crowded and hospitals strained.

Pressure has been building on Iraq to do more to support its citizens abroad, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been offering cash payments for refugees to return. But there have been few takers because the refugees belong to religious or ethnic minorities and fear further prosecution or death if they return home.

With the deadline for America's planned military withdrawal moving ever closer, Mr. Obama will face increasingly difficult challenges as he pursues his promise to push Iraqi leaders to provide better security and more aid to displaced Iraqis, both inside and outside the country.

Mr. Obama has promised to reserve the right to intervene militarily, with our international partners, to suppress potential genocidal violence within Iraq. Beyond that pledge, and the promise to provide significantly increased financial aid, America owes it to the members of Iraq's displaced middle class to do all it can to help them find a brighter future.

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