The Bush administration correctly asserts that the entire Middle East, from royal palaces to terrorist camps, is watching the eventual outcome in Iraq to determine the state of American resolve. But the region is also taking a more immediate measure of America’s commitment to its friends: our response to the Iraqi refugee crisis. And this, too, is a matter of national credibility and honor.
About 2 million Iraqis have been displaced within Iraq by sectarian violence and contagious fear; another 2 million have fled the country for Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond. According to the United Nations, a steady flow of new refugees continues at about 50,000 each month. For the most part, these Iraqis are not concentrated in refugee camps but dispersed in poor urban areas of cities such as Damascus or Amman, making it difficult for humanitarian agencies to identify and reach them.
The sudden arrival of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis creates tensions — swamping education and health services, increasing prices and provoking suspicion. According to Kristele Younes of Refugees International, Lebanon has begun deportations. Some refugees in Jordan are in hiding for fear of raids. The eventual danger is clear: As some Palestinians have demonstrated, refugee populations can marinate in their grievances, succumb to radicalism and trigger broader conflict.