Experts debate Iraq refugees

While immersed in Iraq’s boiling hot weather during his 2003 and 2005 tours, GW sophomore and U.S. Marine Sean Robinson assessed the damaging effects of the Iraq War.

Robinson and his battalion listened to the grievances of the Iraqi people who had lost their shops, livestock and homes to the war’s bombs and gunfire.

“One of the things we had to go out and do was anybody who had a grievance against the Americans, like if we shot up someone’s cart or donkey or shop, they could come to us and we would go to their shop and give them compensation,” Robinson said. “We spent a lot of time on that and we saw, it wasn’t just shooting donkeys and stuff, it was damage to houses and stuff like that. It was probably the most damage I got to see.”

It is the kind of damage Robinson witnessed during his two tours in Iraq that has forced an estimated 4.1 million Iraqis to flee from their homes to other areas in Iraq or neighboring countries like Syria and Jordan, according to the Global Policy Forum.

Samir Shakir Mahmoud Sumaida’ie, Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., addressed the problems Iraqi refugees face as the keynote speaker of “Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis Facing Iraqis: a National Iraq Forum,” in the Elliott School of International Affairs Monday.

“Every single family, the then-thousands, the hundred-thousands, they are waiting and they are suffering,” Sumaida’ie said. “The real situation is for these people to come home.”

In order for these refugees to return to their homes, Robinson said Iraqis need to be sure of their safety and security.

“I would talk to Iraqis and ask them how they were feeling,” Robinson said. “I couldn’t ask them straight up (what they thought of the war) because they didn’t want to talk about it in public. They would be like, ‘Of course we love the Americans! We love the administration, down with (Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of an insurgent militia in Iraq)!’ But a lot of times when you got them alone . they would tell me primarily that they just didn’t want any fighting around them or their families.”

It is not simply money for food and water that will solve the Iraqi refugee crisis, but rather the guarantee of safety and security, Robinson said.

“No amount of money we throw at the issue will solve the problem. The reason why people leave (Iraq) is the lack of security,” he said. “I think it’s the Number one 1 thing that we’re concerned with. Someone putting a gun to your head is more of a priority than feeding yourself or getting water.”

Adam Kokesh, a GW graduate student and veteran of the Iraq War disagrees with Robinson’s ideas. He said it is impossible for the U.S. militia to be a police force and to enforce safety and security – the conditions necessary to bring Iraq’s refugees home.

“Our presence is what is causing the Iraqi refugee crisis,” Kokesh said. “It’s impossible for our troops to secure Iraqi streets and create rule of law. As a foreign military, we are imposing martial law. We didn’t have to get trained as cops.”

Sumaida’ie said there is a lot of work to be done in order to secure Iraq, adding that the Iraqi government must do more to stop the violence in the country.

“The Iraqi government is trying to get its act together,” Sumaida’ie said. “We ourselves as a government . are conscious of how little we have done, (and) there is a lot more the government can do and should do.”

Robinson agreed with Sumaida’ie and said the Iraqi government needs to do their part in taking over to ensure the safety of the Iraqi citizens. He said the refugees must make their own decision to return to Iraq.

“It needs to be an Iraqi determined decision, not (General) Patreus or (ambassador Ryan) Crocker, that Iraq is secure,” Robinson said. “Iraqis need to see it and needs to be Iraqi driven.”

-Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.

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