Iraq: Yes, It’s As Bad As You Think

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There’s a lot of talk lately about how the Iraq troop “surge” is working and how, at long last, we may finally be close to turning a corner in the struggle to stabilize the country. I call bullshit. (So does George Packer.) Isn’t this the sort of self-serving delusion that got us in there in the first place? No? Well, take a look at this report released yesterday by Oxfam International and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI), a consortium of non-governmental organizations. From the report’s executive summary:

Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, education, and employment. Of the four million Iraqis who are dependent on food assistance, only 60 per cent currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 per cent in 2004.

Forty-three per cent of Iraqis suffer from ‘absolute poverty’. According to some estimates, over half the population are now without work. Children are hit the hardest by the decline in living standards. Child malnutrition rates have risen from 19 per cent before the US-led invasion in 2003 to 28 per cent now.

The situation is particularly hard for families driven from their homes by violence. The two million internally displaced people (IDPs) have no incomes to rely on and are running out of coping mechanisms. In 2006, 32 per cent of IDPs had no access to PDS food rations, while 51 per cent reported receiving food rations only sometimes.

The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent since 2003, while 80 per cent lack effective sanitation. The ‘brain drain’ that Iraq is experiencing is further stretching already inadequate public services, as thousands of medical staff, teachers, water engineers, and other professionals are forced to leave the country. At the end of 2006, perhaps 40 per cent had left already.

It’s highly unlikely that any meaningful corners can be turned in Iraq until the population’s basic needs are met. Yes, lack of security is the primary reason for the lag, but aren’t we responsible for that, too? For those of you who missed it, NPR’s “On Point” aired an interview with filmmaker Charles Ferguson, whose documentary, “No End in Sight: The Occupation of Iraq,” won a special jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It opened in theaters last Friday. You may think you’ve heard it all before, but you haven’t. Take a listen.

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