April 15, 2008

AEI will spin this one as a triumph of American-style limited government

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.

"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."

It occurred to Abu Muqawama while reading this article that it might pass for a good news story were it written about America, where we naturally expect private entrepreneurs and charities to fill the gaps left by the limited services provided by our federal government. It's part of our social contract, and it's understood that a country with such low taxes will offer its citizens correspondingly few services. But in Iraq, in an environment in which the government is competing for authority with militias and other groups, it's a problem when militias start providing services expected from the government.

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."