04/11/2008 10:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Petraeus Didn't Tell You

When General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testified before a Senate Committee this week, they pointed to "security improvements" and a "drop in violence" in Iraq over the last year, but there was one issue never mentioned: that's the issue of Iraqi refugees.

According to the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration, almost 5 million Iraqis have now been displaced by violence in their country. Over 2.4 million fled their homes for safer areas within Iraq, up to 1.5 million are living in Syria, and more than 1 million refugees fled to Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and the Gulf States. I've just returned from Syria and Jordan where the influx of Iraqi refugees has created an enormous burden on these countries and is a massive humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, many of the Syrians and Jordanians I've spoken to are starting to complain about the effects of the Iraqi arrivals, and the resulting crowded schools and rising rents and real estate prices.

The initial wave of refugees, the vast majority of whom were wealthy Sunnis, went to Jordan, where the locals labeled them as the "Mercedes refugees."

In Syria the situation is different, as the Iraqi refugees are diverse in terms of ethnicity and religious affiliation, but they are less fortunate than those who went to Jordan, and typically live in cramped, barely heated basement apartments. Most of them have experienced the violent death or disappearance of an immediate family member. In most cases, families were given only hours or even minutes to prepare for departure. An Iraqi family I spoke to was threatened to be killed and was given 48 hours to depart. They blame the Iraqi government and the Americans.

Human trafficking, domestic violence, and prostitution are on the rise: something humiliating to the Iraqi refugees and a taboo subject in the Arab world. In Syria, I observed Iraqi teenage prostitutes working near hotels and wealthy Damascus neighborhoods. According to an NGO official: "many Iraqi women in Syria are choosing prostitution because it's far more lucrative than the $150 monthly stipend from the United Nations."

The United States is taking almost none of these refugees. In 2007, the US administration initially indicated it would accept 7,000 but ultimately took only 1,608...something the General, the Ambassador and President Bush failed to mention.

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