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One Million Iraqis in Syria - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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According to semi-official statistics, there are over one million Iraqi refugees in Syria. Some people estimate that the real figure is double this amount. One study stated that 80 percent of these refugees live in the Syrian capital of Damascus. These two figures sum up the root of the problem that broke out between Iraq and Syria in the aftermath of the recent bloody bombings in which 1000 people were left dead or wounded.

The crisis is getting worse, as the Iraqis, after having tasted relative peace over a few months, will not be satisfied with the return of terrorism and with officials – such as Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, who embarked on a battle of political life and death in order to ensure that he is reelected next January and who holds only one winning card – unless they can eliminate terrorism and guarantee stability for their people. Al Maliki is not in a position to guarantee more electricity or provide more water and he will not be able to reduce living costs; therefore, every explosion and every death is considered an attack on him as well.

Al Maliki is right to be angry and suspicious and there is no doubt that the Iraqi nation is with him on this. However, he must think long and hard before he rushes to launch threats and make demands for an international tribunal to deal with the Syrians because that is the kind of demand that if accepted by the United Nations cannot be taken back.

There are two solutions; one is a temporary solution and the other is a comprehensive one. The first is that he puts a lot of pressure on the neighboring countries such as Syria and Iran to stop infiltrators [passing the borders] and to put a stop to the training camps and that he strengthens his own security borders with all his military might.

The second solution, which is more important, is that the Iraqi government must acknowledge that it has been part of the problem and is not only a victim. We know that one million Iraqis, such as the refugees in Syria or in any other country, will be subjected to political and security manipulation. The tragedy of the Palestinians, who lived in refugee camps and were thrown around like a ball between the Arabs and the Iranians who used the Palestinians to achieve their own goals, will be repeated.

One million is not an easy figure and this large number can be a burden on any government in the world. The Iraqis were pushed towards Syria in particular because it is the only country that does not require entry visas from the Iraqis and they are not prevented from entering as large groups. They are not forced to live in camps outside of the cities and regardless of their commercial activities in the areas they live in, the cost of living for a refugee in Syria is cheap in comparison to other countries.

Many of those angry people fled their cities and gave up their lives in Iraq in the same way the Palestinians left their homes, and they will follow the same path of “resistance” today or tomorrow. The Iraqi government must take immediate action to return people to their homes and those with no homes must be given temporary housing or financial aid for the purpose of building a home. We should bear in mind that the Iraqi government is much richer than the government of Syria; Iraq has a budget of 42 billion dollars whereas the Syrian budget is only 11 billion dollars. Why should the Syrians have to pay for sustaining Iraqi refugees out of their own pockets? Al Maliki’s government can easily pay to return and sustain Iraqi refugees. Everyone will then appreciate the government and it will then receive a lot of help from international organizations and from other countries in order to end this humanitarian crisis and help Iraq escape this ordeal.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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