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Riding the Slow Train on Iraqi Refugee Resettlement

By Al Kamen
Monday, May 14, 2007

The United Nations puts the total number of Iraqi refugees at 2 million outside the country, with about the same number displaced inside the country.

Of those outside the country, about half are in Syria and 700,000 are in Jordan; the rest are in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Refugees International estimates the number of displaced people is growing by about 50,000 a month.

Unlike the refugee camps that often crystallize the plight of those fleeing their homes, this group is slipping into urban areas. It has become a hidden underclass, buying or renting houses or apartments in Damascus or Amman -- where housing prices have soared.

So you'd think the United States, which might be argued has had some role in creating this situation, might want to do something to help these folks -- maybe by taking some refugees and resettling them in this country.

For a long time, Washington basically denied the existence of a refugee problem. Then at the end of 2006, the State Department said the United States would resettle 7,000 Iraqis in 2007 -- not all that many, but a huge increase from the 466 resettled since 2003.

So how many were resettled last month? 500? 600? Well, not quite. Actually, the total for April, according to the State Department, was . . . drumroll . . . ONE. Yes, that's uno. The total since the fiscal year started Oct. 1 is 69. At this rate, far from resettling 7,000, the State Department will be lucky to match last year's total of 202.

What's the problem?

There's lots of finger-pointing among the State Department, the United Nations and the Department of Homeland Security -- which has yet to come up with a new screening process so that refugees can be vetted for security purposes.

"It's not easy, but it's very frustrating," Refugees International President Kenneth Bacon said last week. "State is ready to move, but DHS" has no procedures or rules set up.

The United Nations has referred 3,000 candidates this year for screening, but the State Department has yet to review them and DHS has to approve.

"There are understandable security concerns," Bacon said, and "a legitimate fear, but eventually they have to figure out how to do it.

"The real issue is, does the president care about this problem?" he said. "Until this is a top-level government concern, not much is going to happen."

One?

Are They or Aren't They?

The calls usually start: "Why do you people always . . . " Of late, there have been a couple e-mails and calls demanding to know why the media often refer to World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz's companion, Shaha Riza as his "girlfriend" when, they insist, she's his mistress, because Wolfowitz is not divorced from his wife, Clare.

It's true that no one in the media has used the press's subpoena and contempt powers to force someone to tell us what the bank chief's marital status is. Some reporters doubtless felt it was not the central factor in, as they say at the bank, "the current situation," or TCS.

Some sources have said they thought the couple were divorced. Others said they were "legally separated."

But since the TCS began in late March, reporters have tried, just for the record, to get a clear answer to the question. Last week, our colleagues Linton Weeks and Richard Leiby asked several people close to Riza and the Wolfowitzes to clarify. None could -- or would.

Weeks, in an e-mail, asked Clare Wolfowitz about the marital situation. She didn't address the question.

Two years ago, when Wolfowitz was nominated to the bank presidency, the Daily Mail in England reported that she refused to confirm her marital status. "Reports of his appointment repeatedly describe Wolfowitz as divorced but [the newspaper] has been unable to find any records. Asked if she is separated or divorced, Clare replied: 'That's my business.' "

When we checked a while back, we could find no records of a divorce in Maryland, and land records indicated that Paul and Clare remain owners of a home in Montgomery County.

But, to paraphrase the great Donald H. Rumsfeld, absence of a divorce record is not evidence of a divorce.

So it may be we were wrong to say Riza was Wolfowitz's girlfriend. If so, we regret the error.

From FEMA, a Word to the Wise

The Federal Emergency Management Agency last week issued this news release alert for all those hit by that horrific tornado in Kansas. The headline? "CAREFUL WHEN HIRING CONTRACTORS FOR DISASTER REPAIRS."

"Unfortunately in disaster situations, scam artists are often ready to take advantage of the misfortunes of others," said Michael Karl, FEMA federal coordinating officer for the Greensburg tornado. "People should be especially alert for phone or door-to-door solicitors who hand out flyers and promise to speed up the insurance or building permit process, and those who ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full."

"Whether they are architectural, engineering, electrical, or general contractors, most service providers in the building industry are honest," Karl said, "but disasters attract scam artists. Some claim to be 'FEMA certified,' when in fact, FEMA neither certifies nor endorses any contractor."

So don't, for instance, spend billions on mobile homes and trailers that you can't use in flood zones; don't buy $70 million of food you won't use or can't store; don't pay $40 million to a company that hires your former boss to track trucks if it's not up to the job.

Oh. Wait. That was Katrina.

Frist Looks Homeward, Touts Thompson

An especially fond Loop Farewell -- for now -- to former senator Bill "Dr. Video" Frist, who's moving back home to Tennessee, his e-mail Friday reported. The moving truck, likely sporting huge "Thompson for President" signs, rolled out Friday morning.

"Karyn and I are spending our final morning in Washington today, having packed all our boxes and helped load the van for Nashville. Want to share quickly with you 3 points," he said, all lauding fellow former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson's presidential efforts so far.

Thompson "is continuing his 'front porch' conversations . . . speaking directly to Americans and wisely relying upon the New Media to get his message out. His ABC radio podcasts are downloaded everyday and linked to by many popular, conservative blogs including: Red State, Wizbang, Pajamas Media, etc. Since I began blogging and podcasting almost two years ago, I know how effective this type of outreach can be."

So perhaps he'll be back soon. We can only hope.

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