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REFUGEE REPORT

Iraqi Militias Offering Aid To Displaced

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has provided little financial assistance to the more than 2 million Iraqis who have fled the country's sectarian violence, has also failed to support millions more internally displaced persons who are instead being aided by militias, according to a report by Refugees International due for release today.

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"Militias of all denominations are improving their local base of support by providing social services in neighborhoods and towns they control," the report says. It also finds that the Iraqi government, "although it has access to large sums of money," lacks the capacity and political will "to address humanitarian needs."

Some senior Iraqi officials are suspicious of the refugees' political and religious leanings, and question the numbers coming from host governments, according to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker.

"They are suspicious of the statistics and think they are being inflated by host governments and NGOs so they can get more money from Iraq and the United States," Crocker told Washington Post reporters and editors last week. Crocker also said Iraqi officials have questioned whether all the individuals qualify as refugees, saying that many of those who fled the country for Jordan, Syria and elsewhere "were opposed to the new order."

Iraq's U.S. ambassador, Sameer Shaker Sumaidaie, said yesterday that the government in Baghdad "is aware of the seriousness of the refugee problem and there are discussions about what to do." Among the complications, he said, are the many other issues facing the cabinet and the capacity of the Ministry for Displacement and Migration.

The United States has provided more than $480 million to assist refugees and internally displaced Iraqis, and plans to add $280 million more this year. The Maliki government so far has granted $15 million to Syria, which has said it is home to nearly 1.5 million refugees from Iraq; $2 million to Lebanon, which has around 30,000 Iraqi refugees; and is still negotiating how to deliver $8 million to Jordan, which hosts 400,000 to 500,000 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The failure of the Iraqi government to provide more funds has interfered with efforts to persuade other countries to contribute. James B. Foley, the State Department's coordinator for Iraqi refugees, told reporters last week, "A resounding refrain everywhere I went is that the government of Iraq needs to step forward, for two reasons: First, because these are Iraqi citizens who are in need; secondly, because the government of Iraq has resources."

The Refugees International study found that, with many displaced Iraqis living in poverty, the movement of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has become Iraq's "largest 'humanitarian' organization." It said that Sadr's group " 'resettles' displaced Iraqis free of charge in homes that belonged to Sunnis." It said Sunni militias "play a similar role with displaced and needy Sunnis."

A diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his Iraqi connections, said yesterday that there have been disagreements within the Maliki government over the refugees. "Iraq's response has been woefully inadequate, and more should be done to help the refugees," the diplomat said. "But the cabinet has not focused on it because of other problems, and the ministry handling refugees is dysfunctional."


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