Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack’s editorial in Sunday’s Washington Post prompts some questions that I have not seen discussed elsewhere. Why have we not seen the long columns of refugees in Iraq that are typical of civil conflicts? What would it take to cause massive flows of refugees? In particular, would the removal of US forces cause Iraqis to throw some possessions in suitcases and start walking for the border? Who would move, and where would they try to go? What would be the consequences if hundreds of thousands or millions of civilians attempted to walk into Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait?
I realize that there have been population shifts already, with Iraqis moving into more homogeneous neighborhoods and some middle class folks emigrating. Byman and Pollack estimate that about half a million Iraqis have migrated in those ways. But we haven’t seen the equivalent of Kosovo (72 percent of the population displaced), or Congo (7.1 percent of the population killed). Anyone–Democrat or Republican–who wants to be part of governing the United States had better figure out how to prevent mass migrations in Iraq and what to do if they begin.