Iraq: the next tragedy

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.

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2 Responses to Iraq: the next tragedy

  1. Nick Beaudrot says:

    There’s a great deal of internal displacement that’s not reported. Those who fear for their safety can simply flee to an area of their own ethnic identity. Since much of Iraq is urbanized, this often means just moving to a different neighborhood.

    Here is a world refugee survey that estimates the number of internally displaced persons at 1.3 Million (5.2%). Obvisouly this is higher than the Byman/Pollack number, but it’s hard to figure out what the “real” number should be.

  2. Statastico says:

    3,438 civilian deaths were reported in Iraq in July, 2006. On a per capita basis, this is nearly 50% more deaths per month than averaged during the Croatian civil war and it’s comparable to Tajikistan’s civil war in the mid-1990s The Balkans wars had unusually high rates of displacement (22% – 72%) compared to recent civil wars in Africa (4% – 26%), perhaps due to Balkans’ smaller geographic area, better infrastructure, and nearby ethnic safe havens. I recently compared the data for Iraq civil war to other recent civil wars at statastic.com.

    To end on an even more somber note, if violence in Iraq continues to increase at the same rate that it has January, by this time next year there would be nearly 500 deaths per day, about the same death rate as during the Kosovo genocide. And if the same percentage of Iraqis were displaced as in Kosovo (72%) there would be more than 18 million Iraqis looking for a new home.

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