Voting with their feet (2)
Forget what the New York Times says about Iraq - even though they acknowledged yesterday that the security situation has vastly improved.
Forget the Washington Post, The LA Times, and any other mainstream publication who doubted General Petreaus when he appeared before Congress in September and told the world that things were improving in Iraq.
Forget the left. Forget the right. Forget the pundits and scribes who have written millions of words - most of them inaccurate - about what is actually going on in Iraq.
Listen instead to the Iraqi people themselves. Especially those who fled the country as a result of the sectarian strife and terrorism that plagued their homeland for so long. The UK Times reports on something we noted 4 days ago.
They are coming home:
The figures are hard to estimate precisely but the process could involve hundreds of thousands of people. The numbers are certainly large enough, as we report today, for a mass convoy to be planned next week as Iraqis who had opted for exile in Syria return to their homeland. It is one of the most striking signs that not only has violence in Baghdad and adjacent provinces decreased dramatically in recent months, but confidence in the economic and political future of Iraq has risen sharply.This is not the result of any formal plea from the Iraqi government. Instead, it's as grass roots a movement as you can get - neighbors getting in touch with refugees and telling them it is alright to come home now:
Nor is this movement the action of men and women who could easily reverse course and turn back again. Tighter visa restrictions imposed by Damascus mean that those who are returning to Iraq cannot assume that they could quickly retreat again to Syria if that suited them. This is, for many, a one-way decision. It represents a vote of confidence in Iraq. The homecoming is not an isolated development. The security situation in Baghdad, while far from totally peaceful, has improved substantially in the past few months, with civilian fatalities falling by three quarters since the early summer. This has been reflected on the streets with markets, clubs and restaurants that had been closed for months, especially at night, now reopening.
This good news has not attracted the attention that it should because critics of the conflict in 2003 and its aftermath have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge progress in the country. Yet even observers from publications long hostile to US policy in Iraq, such as The New York Times, are finally conceding that “the violence has diminished significantly since the United States reinforced troop levels in Iraq and adopted a new counter-insurgency strategy”.
Saida Zaynab, the Damascus neighbourhoods once dominated by many of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, is almost deserted. Apartment prices are plummeting and once-crowded shops and buses are half empty.There are still more than a million internally displaced people in Iraq - Shias and Sunnis who moved to friendlier parts of the country when the situation became intolerable in Baghdad. And the numbers returning are dwarfed by the 3 million or more Iraqis who left the country since 2003.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was scrambling to assess the transformation last night. An interim report is expected today. “There is a large movement of people going back to Iraq. We are doing rapid research on this,” a spokesman said.
And Syria is tightening its visa process, making some of the returnees fearful they were going to get kicked out anyway. But at the same time, the refugees know that this is a one way trip back to Iraq, that Syria has virtually closed the border between the two countries.
Regardless of the reason, they are coming home. And they are returning to a place more optimistic about the future than the place they left. Iraqis are voting with their feet, weighing in on the success of the US military's efforts to improve the security situation for all Iraqis.
Forget about what anyone in America says about Iraq. The Iraqi people are doing all the talking that matters at the moment.