A Dismal Picture of Life in Iraq

Many families displaced by sectarian violence have fled to refugee camps, such as this one in the Shiite city of Najaf.
Many families displaced by sectarian violence have fled to refugee camps, such as this one in the Shiite city of Najaf. (By Alaa Al-marjani -- Associated Press)
By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 30 -- Living conditions in Iraq have deteriorated significantly since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, leaving nearly one-third of the population in need of emergency aid, a consortium of relief organizations said in a report released Monday.

The numbers in the report offer a contrast to the picture of steadily improving conditions painted by the Iraqi government and the U.S. military over the past several months. Seventy percent of Iraqi residents lack adequate water supplies, compared with 50 percent in 2003, while more than 4 million people have been displaced during that time. Yet funding for humanitarian assistance in Iraq has declined precipitously, from $453 million in 2005 to $95 million in 2006.

"Iraq's civilians are suffering from a denial of fundamental human rights in the form of chronic poverty, malnutrition, illness, lack of access to basic services, and destruction of homes, vital facilities, and infrastructure, as well as injury and death," researchers from the British-based humanitarian group Oxfam International and a coalition of nongovernmental organizations working in Iraq said in the 40-page report. "Basic indicators of humanitarian need in Iraq show that the slide into poverty and deprivation since the coalition forces entered the country in 2003 has been dramatic, and a deep trauma for the Iraqi people."

Also Monday, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said he expects it will take U.S. forces until mid-2009 to establish "sustainable security" in Iraq. In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Petraeus added that "the key is, really, how much force do you need" to achieve that goal and said that he and other generals had not finalized recommendations on troop levels. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker are due to report on Iraq's progress to President Bush and Congress in September.

In recent weeks, U.S. military officials have cited a decrease in the number of displaced families across Iraq, especially in Baghdad. At a news conference two weeks ago, Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, the chief U.S. spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, said Iraqi and American forces had all but stopped sectarian displacement.

Nonetheless, the researchers who produced the report on humanitarian needs said Iraq continues to represent the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. Two million people have left their homes for other parts of the country, the report concludes, while an additional 2 million have fled to other nations, mostly Syria and Jordan. The problem is especially acute among professional workers, the report said, estimating that more than 40 percent of doctors, engineers and other highly skilled workers have left the country.

The report offers several policy recommendations for the Iraqi government -- including the creation of a government team specifically focused on humanitarian aid and increased payments to households headed by widows. It also calls on the U.S. military, the United Nations and Western countries to increase aid. The authors reserved their sharpest criticism for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which "did not adequately take into account emergency needs that would arise from deteriorating security over time" when it governed Iraq from April 2003 to June 2004.

"The government of Iraq, international donors, and the United Nations system have been focused on reconstruction, development, and building political institutions, and have overlooked the harsh daily struggle for survival now faced by many," the report said.

An aide to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Dabbagh was out of the country Monday and unavailable to comment on the report. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad could not be reached for comment.

Also on Monday, violence resumed in Baghdad and across the country after a relative lull following the Iraqi soccer team's first-ever Asian Cup championship on Sunday. A car bomb killed six people in the Bab al-Shorji neighborhood of central Baghdad, while 15 unidentified bodies were found in different areas of the capital, police said.

Three U.S. troops were killed in combat Thursday in Anbar province west of Baghdad, the U.S. military announced Monday.

Iraq's parliament began its month-long August recess as the largest Sunni political bloc reiterated its intention to withdraw from the government later this week unless Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responds to the group's demands. The Iraqi Accordance Front, whose six members of Maliki's cabinet have not attended government functions since late June, accused Maliki in a news release of "shutting the door to reform" and being unresponsive to the needs of the Iraqi people.

Maliki "is the one who pushed us to this decision," the group said. "He was given many chances but he missed them in his maze of promises, dragging and prolonging."

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Dalya Hassan contributed to this report.

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