NEWS: Return of Iraq’s disposessed; Turks bomb Kurds; rise of Najaf; withdrawal of British

Balkanized homecoming

When the Iraqi government last month invited home the 1.4 million refugees who had fled this war-ravaged country for Syria — and said it would send buses to pick them up — the United Nations and the U.S. military reacted with horror.

U.N. refugee officials immediately advised against the move, saying any new arrivals risked homelessness, unemployment and deprivation in a place still struggling to take care of the people already here. For the military, the prospect of refugees returning to reclaim houses long since occupied by others, particularly in Baghdad, threatened to destroy fragile security improvements.

“It’s a problem that everybody can grasp,” said a senior U.S. diplomat here. “You move back to the house that you left and find that somebody else has moved into the house, maybe because they’ve been displaced from someplace else. And it’s even more difficult than that, because in many cases the local militias . . . have seized control and threw out anybody in that neighborhood they didn’t like.”

The vast population upheaval resulting from Iraq’s sectarian conflict has left the country with yet another looming crisis. At least one of every six Iraqis — about 4.5 million people — has left home, some for other parts of Iraq, others for neighboring nations. [complete article]

Turkey bombs northern Iraq

Large numbers of Turkish fighter jets have bombed suspected Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq, reports say.

Turkish officials said the warplanes had targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in areas near the border.

But officials in northern Iraq said the planes had struck several villages. There were reports that one woman was killed, although this was unconfirmed. [complete article]

So, what did we achieve? After four years and 174 dead, Britain’s lead role in Basra is over

“We do not see them [British troops], and we do not know what they are doing,” said Abdullah Haji, a 52-year-old electrician. “We do not know how many are left in Basra, or how much longer they will be staying here. Now we have our police and army, and we also have the militias. But I do not want to talk about the militias.”

Mr Haji’s nervous comments go to the heart of the dispute over what, if anything, Britain has achieved in Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found, of course, but four and a half years after Tony Blair proclaimed “Iraq will be a significantly better place as a result of the action that we have taken”, can we claim any success? Or have we allowed politicians and military commanders to redefine the mission in such a way that they can deny it has been a complete failure? [complete article]

Iraqi city poised to become hub of Shiite power

A millennium after Najaf first became a magnet for Shiite pilgrims, leaders here are reimagining this city, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein, as a new hub of Shiite political and economic power, not just for Iraq but for the entire Middle East.

That shift would further weaken the Iraqi central government and complete Najaf’s transformation from a dusty, conservative town known mostly for its golden-domed shrine and soaring minarets into the undisputed center of a potentially semiautonomous Shiite region, with some of the country’s richest oil reserves.

And although Najafis will say little about it, Iran is playing a significant role in the plan, helping to improve the city and its holy sites, especially the golden- domed shrine to Imam Ali, the figure most associated with the founding of the Shiite sect, who is said to be buried here. [complete article]

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