Staying to Help in Iraq[Editors Note: Angelina Jolie is not among the security experts to whom we generally turn for an assessment of the situation in Iraq. But as a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, Ms. Jolie has visited Iraq twice in the past year and here we print excerpts of her thoughts of the changes she has seen (as read on Washington Post.com, February 28, 2008).]
[Editors Note: Angelina Jolie is not among the security experts to whom we generally turn for an assessment of the situation in Iraq. But as a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, Ms. Jolie has visited Iraq twice in the past year and here we print excerpts of her thoughts of the changes she has seen (as read on Washington Post.com, February 28, 2008).]
We have finally reached a point where humanitarian assistance, from us and others, can have an impact… During the last week, the United States, UNHCR and the Iraqi government have begun to work together in new and important ways.
One thing is certain: It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people. But it is not too early to start working on solutions. And last week, there were signs of progress.
In Baghdad, I spoke with Army Gen. David Petraeus about UNHCR’s need for security information and protection for its staff as they re-enter Iraq, and I am pleased that he has offered that support. General Petraeus also told me he would support new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis “to the maximum extent possible” – which leaves me hopeful that more progress can be made.
UNHCR is certainly committed to that. Last week while in Iraq, High Commissioner Antonio Guterres pledged to increase UNHCR’s presence there and to work closely with the Iraqi government, both in assessing the conditions required for return and in providing humanitarian relief.
During my trip I also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has announced the creation of a new committee to oversee issues related to internally displaced people, and a pledge of $40 million to support the effort.
My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.
Today’s humanitarian crisis in Iraq – and the potential consequences for our national security – are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won’t explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?
What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money – but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.
As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.
It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.