Since the attack on Iraq’s al-Askari Mosque in February 2006, over 1.5 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in other parts of Iraq and approximately 2 million have fled into neighboring countries. Finding solutions to this ongoing displacement crisis presents a variety of challenges. One view asserts that resettling Iraqis in the U.S. and other third countries is detrimental to Iraq’s future, because the country’s educated middle class might never return to help govern, rebuild, and educate the next generation. Some also argue that integrating IDPs in their current locations – along ethno-sectarian lines – is consolidating the gains of extremist groups. From a military perspective, if refugees and IDPs try to return before conditions are ready and proper preparations have been made, sectarian tensions and cleansing could resume, with foreboding consequences for Iraq’s recently found semi-stability. Yet a humanitarian perspective would assert that this is ultimately a question for the Iraqis to address themselves. Whether they return – and where – should be their choice alone.
On August 22, the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement at Brookings hosted a discussion of these issues. Panelists included Elizabeth Ferris, senior fellow and co-director of the Brookings-Bern Project, and Kirk W. Johnson, executive director of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings senior fellow, moderated the discussion.