Rights abuses reported, thousands flee in Iraq | 

Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq, on left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province.
Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq, on left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq’s Anbar Province.

Thousands of people fled the Anbar province of Iraq due to heavy fighting, says the UN.

The world body estimates that some 5,000 families have run to neighboring provinces.

“There is a critical humanitarian situation in Anbar province which is likely to worsen as operations continue,” said UN  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov.

Human Rights Watch also decried the violence, calling attention to the attacks on civilians. It accused both sides fighting of using ‘unlawful methods of fighting,’ causing damage to property and civilian deaths. The group urged the government of Iraq to protect its people while fighting back the problem of al-Qaeda.
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The great* Iraq death toll debate: Putting war on the global health agenda | 

Editor’s note: *meaning not so great

It would look pretty odd – or outrageous – if medical research organizations, public health scientists, health advocacy organizations and others devoted to saving lives and preventing death decided not to try to determine how many people get killed every year from a select cause like, say, AIDS or heart disease or traffic accidents or drug abuse or any particular leading cause of death and disability.

Iraq Death Tollchart

Yet that is the standard approach when it comes to warfare.

Officially, the U.S. government and leading research organizations like the National Institutes of Health do not support studies aimed at determining how many people we kill – or can be predicted to die – when we enter into a military conflict.

“You’d think we’d want to know that, wouldn’t you?” said Amy Hagopian, a global health professor at the University of Washington.

Hagopian is lead author of a report this week in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine (Public Libarary of Science) that, through a number of analytical methods, estimated that nearly half a million Iraqis – men, women and children – died between 2003 and 2011 as a result of the war and its broader corrosive effects on infrastructure. Continue reading

NGOs call for peaceful Syria intervention | 

Protesters in Austin, Tx.
Protesters in Austin, Tx.
Elizabeth Brossa

US Senator John McCain is an unlikely ally for President Obama’s sales pitch to launch a military intervention in Syria. Congress has some time to decide what it will do before it reconvenes, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working in and around Syria are pushing for the US to do more, just not with its military.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a strong statement on Sunday condemning the spectre of US attacks in Syria calling such an intervention “largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.”

It will be impossible to reach an international consensus, even if there is definitive evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria, says ICG. Much of that is due to the 2003 campaign to invade Iraq based on reported weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be false. More importantly, the group raises concerns that strikes will raise the level of violence and not prove to be an adequate deterrent to chemical weapon use.

“The Syrians we meet are crying out for peace,” agrees Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser. “Ultimately, there must be a political solution to the crisis. Military intervention should be an option of last resort.” Continue reading

How the rush to help can thwart best intentions of foreign aid | 

Despite the best intentions, foreign aid often goes awry in countries overwhelmed by war.

Jack Healy, writing in Monday’s New York Times, offered a vivid, and depressing, example of governments rushing in to help people without carefully weighing all of the issues, in his story of the small village of Alice-Ghan in Afghanistan.

“ALICE-GHAN, Afghanistan — This tiny village rose from the rocky soil with great hopes and $10 million in foreign aid, a Levittown of identical mud-walled houses built to shelter some of the hundreds of thousands of Afghans set adrift by war and flight.

“Five years later, the village of Alice-Ghan and those good intentions are tilting toward ruin. Most of its 1,100 houses have been abandoned to vandals and the lashing winds. With few services or jobs within reach, hundreds of residents have moved away — sometimes even to the slums and temporary shelters they had sought to escape…

“The settlement, a little more than an hour’s drive north of the capital, Kabul, on the border with Parwan Province, is one of 60 scattered across the country. It has become a demonstration of the miscalculations and obstacles that have thwarted so many similar efforts to tackle huge problems like poverty, hunger, illness and dislocation in Afghanistan. “

Wikimedia Commons photo

The tents of displaced Afghans still dot the countryside.

The problems facing the U.S., Australian and Afghan government attempts in Alice-Ghan include a lack of basic services like electricity and running water, cultural misunderstandings and corruption.

These problems are similar to those elsewhere, like in Iraq, which resulted in the loss of millions, if not billions, of dollars and contributed to the enormous suffering of people there and also helped drive at least 2 million Iraqis out of the country.

Michael Shank, writing in The Guardian last month, summed up the problem with corruption and other misguided efforts regarding foreign aid rather well: Continue reading