November 30, 2007

And now, for the most politically incorrect question of the day

The New York Times has a front-page article today on the lack of anything resembling a plan for all the Iraqi refugees who are now trying to return to their homes in the newly safer-than-Abu-Muqawama's-East-London-neighborhood Baghdad.

Here's the catch: over the past year, Baghdad has been, for all intensive purposes, ethnically cleansed. (Without many of the massacres that we feared would take place. People were basically just intimidated out of their homes, with enough murdered to send a message to everyone else.) Check out these striking graphics, courtesy of the Times. I mean, holy %$#@, seriously, check these out.

The trick is now to somehow resettle refugees whose houses have been taken over. You guys think that's going to be easy?

“All these guys coming back are probably going to find somebody else living in their house,” said Col. William Rapp, a senior aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, speaking at a two-day military briefing on measuring military trends for a small group of American reporters in Baghdad.

“We have been asking, pleading with the government of Iraq, to come up with a policy so that it is not put upon our battalion commanders and the I.S.F. battalion commanders to figure it out on the ground,” he added, referring to the American and Iraqi security force commanders.

Fat chance, boys. The Iraqi government couldn't plan a two-car funeral. So here's the question: is it worth it? We talk about internally displaced persons, but does anyone really think it's realistic to return these people until/if there is some political reconciliation? I mean, the first example of a similar situation that strikes Abu Muqawama is the flight of Christians from the Chouf Mountains in Lebanon after Harb al-Jabal. No Christians returned to their homes until after the war and the Taif Accords, years later. (Any Lebanon-watchers, feel free to correct this blogger's memory. And yes, he knows there were numerous instances of other sects being kicked out of areas. It's just that the Chouf is the first example that sticks in his mind.)

The ethnic cleansing of Baghdad has really been a remarkably quick phenomenon, leading one military officer to tell a journalist friend of Abu Muqawama several months back, "Look, we all just have to get used to the reality that Baghdad is now and will forever be a Shia city."

Do we? Should we? Or should we listen to this man, who studies Iraq very closely and has been arguing that the "cleansing" of Baghdad is a more dynamic process than we give it credit for being. (And thus, could presumably be affected by policy changes on the ground.)

Basically, what should the policy be? In the end, Abu Muqawama would bet that we're not going to have a policy at all and that this will be, much to the fear of Gen. Petraeus, dumped in the laps of hapless battalion commanders on the ground in Baghdad who will be forced to take sides.

%$#@. This country really is a mess.

Col. Cheryl L. Smart, who tracks the data on displaced Iraqis for General Petraeus’s command, said that the American military had been “very vocal” with the Iraqi government about the need to establish a system to adjudicate claims about property rights and to avoid using Iraqi troops to carry out “forced evictions.”

Colonel Rapp voiced the hope that confrontations might be avoided by building new homes for returning Iraqis instead of forcing all of the squatters to leave. “It is probably going to be resolved with new housing construction as opposed to wholesale evictions and resettlement,” he said.

“Whether they will remix is probably a multiyear, decade kind of issue,” he added, referring to the possibility of sectarian reintegration.

“The immediate return of I.D.P.’s will create tensions in that system, and we are concerned about it,” he said, referring to the internally displaced people in Iraq.

Good luck, boys. Creating new housing, Abu Muqawama agrees, probably makes more sense than trying to give people back what has been stolen from them. Where that all leads as far as long-term reconciliation, though, is anyone's guess.