Report

Update on Humanitarian Issues and Politics in Iraq

Elizabeth Ferris and Matthew Hall

The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement provides periodic updates on humanitarian issues in Iraq, with a particular focus on the factors behind the growing displacement crisis. The Project has recently completed a large field-based study of Iraqi displacement patterns to Syria, and many of its finding are presented here.

In recent months, American media coverage of Iraq has largely focused on the US military’s redoubled efforts to “clear and hold” the cities of Anbar and several neighborhoods in Baghdad. The urban warfare of the so-called “surge” has become a significant factor of recent displacement, as street fighting and air strikes have pushed thousands from their homes. While there are indications that the “surge” and related operations, such as the recent US program to arm Sunni tribes, have managed to dampen some aspects of the civil violence, there is little to suggest that the strategy is paving the way to durable stability.

Violence is fracturing the nation of Iraq, and Baghdad is losing its grip on the country. The South is being divided into Shi’a fiefdoms, the West is becoming the territory of Sunni tribes, and the Kurdish North has established de facto independence. As control decentralizes in Iraq it may prove increasingly difficult for humanitarian organizations to provide comprehensive aid. Should this fragmentation continue, and Iraq partition into three or more regions, the resulting displacement could be enormous.

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