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The Dogs of War

The US treats the canine victims of its adventure in Iraq better than it does the millions of humans displaced

James Denselow

In a recent meeting with Jalal Talabani, President Bush praised the Iraqi president for his work towards allowing Iraqis to "realise [their] hopes and dreams".

It is a comment characteristic of an administration that has been forced to base its presence in Iraq on moral grounds after the shattering of the myth of Iraqi WMD. Yet actions speak louder than words, and Washington has refused to accept real responsibility for the consequences of its decision to invade Iraq.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the criminal neglect shown towards the Iraqi refugee population. Today it is estimated at 4.7 million, with more than 2 million people externally displaced, many living in appalling conditions. That's twice the population of Birmingham forced to flee the country and live in general destitution.

As a powerful Amnesty report described last month: "The treatment of Iraqis seeking international protection has failed to improve. In fact, it has taken a sharp turn for the worse."

That things are getting worse has not stopped the somewhat illusory appearance of action. Indeed, James Foley, the US ambassador and State Department coordinator for Iraqi refugees, was in Syria last month as part of a four-nation Middle East tour to boost the numbers of Iraqi refugees coming to the US in order to meet the Bush administration's goal of accepting 12,000 by the end of September. Yet the US government managed to let in only 1,608 in the 2007 fiscal year, despite a target of 7,000.

Such numbers are a far cry from the numbers of Vietnamese resettled in America during and after that particular war, when an estimated 800,000 arrived after several waves of immigration.

Why the discrepancy between the two conflicts? The main reason is linked to the increase in immigration and border controls sparked by the 9/11 attacks, which provided the initial political capital for the Iraq invasion.

It was 9/11 that spawned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is now an element of the Kafkaesque conveyor belt for refugees. This sees them interviewed, processed, pre-screened, interviewed by the DHS, out-processed, and then potentially allowed to travel from Iraq to the US.


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The bureaucratic absurdity of this system is such that Amnesty reported how US security restrictions bar asylum and resettlement to those who may have provided "material support to terrorist organisations", which includes those who pay ransoms to militias to have relatives returned.

While the US government finds ways to avoid taking responsibility, Iraqis die - in particular, translators and those who have worked with the Americans. These are victims of death squads and targeted assassinations, as the New York Times's George Packer conveyed in his play Betrayed.

In addition, this week US papers reported that the new Iraqi police and military forces were finding themselves abandoned by their US allies after suffering serious injuries, often on operations directed by US commanders.

US officials regularly fudge responding for the bigger picture of responsibility by regularly blaming processing capacity for the constant delays or claiming that responsibility for refugees lies with the Iraqi government. Yet the Iraqi government is neither sovereign nor effective, and the United Nations has had to intercede to warn refugees that it is not safe to return, despite the official narrative of the successes of the surge.

Perhaps the most effective way of getting out of Iraq and into America may be by not being human. Since the war began, there have been numerous stories about US servicemen taking home dogs they met in Iraq, from Nubs, who followed a marine across miles of desert when he moved base, to the charity Operation Baghdad Pups, which works hard to get Iraqi dogs access to America.

The continued descent into poverty and despair experienced by still increasing numbers of Iraqi refugees five years after the invasion is a testimony to the fallacy that the military intervention has been about anything other than a (misplaced) sense of national interest. That more attention has been given to dogs than to people is a sad reminder of how, instead of liberating the Iraqis, the war has further dehumanised them.

James Denselow is a writer on Middle East geopolitical and security issues. He is currently writing on the regional impact of the war in Iraq.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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