Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Problem Solved

A couple of weeks ago, I touched briefly on the burgeoning problem of middle class/secular flight from Iraq. As told by Sabrina Tavernise writing for the New York Times:

In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class.

The school system offers another clue: Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry's examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations.

While such mass exodus could present a host of problems, it appears that the fledgling Iraqi government is working on a solution. Earlier this week, according to the AP:

Gunmen in police uniforms staged a brazen daylight raid on bus stations in central Baghdad on Monday, kidnapping at least 50 people...

Riverbend provides some background on the particular neighborhood that was the target of the raid:

Salhiya is a busy area where many travel agencies have offices. It has been particularly busy since the war because people who want to leave to Jordan and Syria all make their reservations from one office or another in that area.

The AP article quotes from locals on the scene:

"They took all the workers from the companies and nearby shops," said Haidar Mohammed Eleibi, who works for the Swan Transportation Co. in the Salihiya area.

I suppose that's one way to put a crimp in the travel industry. Just round up all the travel agents and associated merchants. As an added bonus, a little collateral damage involving innocent bystanders can serve as some free PR in the effort to curb emigration. Riverbend provides the rest of the detail:

According to people working and living in the area, around 15 police cars pulled up to the area and uniformed men began pulling civilians off the streets and from cars, throwing bags over their heads and herding them into the cars. Anyone who tried to object was either beaten or pulled into a car. The total number of people taken away is estimated to be around 50.

This has been happening all over Iraq - mysterious men from the Ministry of Interior rounding up civilians and taking them away. It just hasn’t happened with this many people at once. The disturbing thing is that the Iraqi Ministry of Interior has denied that it had anything to do with this latest mass detention (which is the new trend with them - why get tangled up with human rights organizations about mass detentions, torture and assassinations - just deny it happened!). That isn’t a good sign - it means these people will probably be discovered dead in a matter of days. We pray they’ll be returned alive…

The identity of the abductors in this most recent case is problematic to say the least. The putative head of the Interior Ministry is the Prime Minister himself, Nouri al-Maliki. So either he signed off on this less-than-democratic raid, or his control over the Interior Ministry/police forces is extremely weak. My hunch is that it's the latter, but, again, I derive no comfort from this.

Not to beat a dead horse, but if it is indeed the case that Maliki has thus far failed to rein in the Interior Ministry and associated militia activity, this event is illustrative of a fact that should have been apparent prior to Maliki's ascension to the Prime Minister's office - a political event that was too hastily hailed as a "victory" for Zal Khalilzad and "a unified Iraq."

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, while a convenient scapegoat, was not the source of Iraq's problems, nor likely a primary impediment to the resolution of those problems. Even if he was too close to Iran, and not particularly competent or effective as a leader. The situation itself is not exactly conducive to good governance.

But at least those requests for passports and taking academic records abroad might come down somewhat. At least for a little while.

Photo Afif Sarhan/IRIN via

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