POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Displaced In Iraq: An Interview With Iraqi Red Crescent President Sa'id Hakki

Dr. Sa'id Hakki's does not have an easy job. As president of the Iraqi Red Crescent he helps provide aid to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced or harmed by the war. His is the only relief organization operating inside the country, and as such is frequently in the cross-hairs of brutal violence. This past April, Hakki personally traveled to Washington to plead with Congress to rethink withdrawal plans. A humanitarian catastrophe would happen if the troops left, he said. On Wednesday he spoke with the Huffington Post.

Huffington Post: This past week it was reported that 2007 was the bloodiest year in the Iraq War and yet that the number of U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths had dropped dramatically in October. From the ground, what is your assessment about the level of violence in Iraq?

Hakki: The security situation in Iraq is improving there is no question in our mind. However, the number of Internally Displaced People (IDP) are increasing. And this increase was due to lack of services or employment not ethnic violence or a decrease in the security.

Your own organization recently released a report that nearly 2.3 million Iraqis - the vast majority of them women and children - have fled their homes but remain inside the country's borders, in urgent need of basic care.

The Syrian border as well as the Jordanian and Lebanese borders are closed... The IDP issue is multi-faceted and it is a complex issue. If you take the Kurdish area, the people fleeing there are Christians coming from Mosul, Sunni Arabs who fled the violence in Shiite neighborhoods or professionals who fear for their lives. And also Kurdish villagers who are on the border of Turkey and Iraq where there was a bombardment of artillery. In other parts of Iraq it is mainly unemployment, lack of water, or electricity, a general lack of services that moves people around.

Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi spokesman for a US-Iraqi military, questioned those figures, noting that 46,000 Iraqis returned from their country just last month after fleeing abroad.

Anyone is entitled to their own opinion. And we will respect that. As far as why Iraqis are leaving Syria it is an issue of visas. They cannot stay past 30 days unless they have money. Those on the verge of poverty or in poverty, they are coming back for sure.

Is the Iraqi government capable of meeting the basic needs of its citizens?

Laughing loudly -- That's a very good question. I suggest you ask someone there.

But you're on the ground seeing people who are reliant on the Maliki government. Do you think they are doing their job?

Now chuckling -- That is a question you have to ask the Iraqi government, please. I cannot answer that. All I know is that Iraq is one of the richest countries in the Middle East, almost twice as rich as California. And yet their people don't have portable water.

A senior official from your organization claimed that harassment from U.S. forces is a greater threat to the work of the Iraqi Red Crescent than insurgent attacks. Is this true?

This is absolutely not true. He rescinded that. He said he never stated that. He said that the Americans would raid the offices in Anbar when the [in]security there was at its peak. And we have had no incidences whatsoever since that statement.

Does the Iraqi populace embrace America's presence in its country?

It depends on where you are. If you are near Kurdistan they embrace it 100 percent. If you are in certain parts of Iraq it is okay. In others, not as much. But it takes time. Some people will embrace it, some won't.

Is Iraq better off today then before we invaded?

It is 100 percent better off. At least you have freedom. At least you can say what you want. And for you to build a nation you should not judge after a year or two or five. You should judge it in the long term. And history will judge that the most brutal dictator the world has ever seen, that Iraq and the world are much better without him. It takes time for those people inside Iraq to grip themselves. It will take time for the neighboring countries to set aside their difference and for Iraq to stand on its feet again.