Journalist Rosen shares Iraqi refugees’ stories of struggle

“The most shocking fact for me is that every individual has experienced kidnappings and murder without any exception; it is a brutalized society.” These words, spoken by Nir Rosen last Friday evening, evoked many sympathetic gasps from the Griffin 3 audience. Rosen, an American journalist who writes on international affairs and the Iraqi War, delivered a speech focusing on the displacement that has occurred in Iraq within the last four years.

Rosen, who has been consulting with refugees for the past three years and only recently returned from Iraq, began his lecture by stating that there were refugees in Iraq before the U.S. invasion. He focused on explaining the relations between Shiites and Sunnis before the U.S. invasion and after. According to Rosen, displacement began when the Americans invaded in 2003. “Iraqis ‘Romanized’ Sunni and Shiite relations before the war. Many would marry each other; they never saw a civil war between them,” Rosen said. The American invasion dismissed the state and the infrastructure, causing racial tensions to rise.

The Shiite population made up the majority of the Iraqi community even during the Saddam regime. “It would be wrong to say that the Saddam regime was a Sunni regime because he was a Sunni,” Rosen said. However, Rosen pointed out that there were subtle resentments towards each other in private conversations. “While some claim that the Americans wanted a civil war in Iraq, this is not true,” Rosen said. “However, every action taken led to it.”

In January 2005, Shiites dominated the security force, a paramilitary and law enforcement force that served under the government of Iraq at the time. This low-paying, dangerous job was mainly taken by Shiites who came from very poor backgrounds. Since Shiites controlled the security force, there were concerns regarding the sectarian agendas within the organization. Many Shiites were seeking revenge on Sunnis, mainly because of the displacement they had experienced.

“Police would come in asking for Sunnis, and then kill them, blow them up,” Rosen said. “Not only did Shiites feel safer by removing Sunnis from their neighborhoods, but [Shiites] created a lucrative business for themselves within this massacre by renting the homes of the people they killed.”

By 2006, the Sunnis were losing the war and believed that seeking American help was their best option. The tone changed as Sunnis became portrayed as victims. Several Al-Qaeda groups that do not have a relation to groups outside of Iraq killed Shiites and then turned on Sunnis as well.

By 2008, the Shiite neighborhood’s Mardi army acted as the government by taking control. In late 2007, awakening groups – former, mostly Sunni members of the resistance – approached Americans. Rosen stated, “I believe there was a shift when the Sunnis were terrified when the Americans began to contemplate withdrawing their troops from Iraq. They believed that the Shiites would slaughter them.” For Sunnis, American presence was a better alternative than anything else.

Awakening group leaders in Sunni neighborhoods provided assistance to the people. “This was an American-created catastrophe, and there was no assistance after a person was declared a refugee,” Rosen said. By this point, the country’s infrastructure had collapsed, and people who collaborated with the U.S were left to die because visas took a long time to process and no further aid was provided.

According to Rosen, “The Iraq that once existed is gone.” The entire educated and affluent population fled to different countries, mainly due to fear of being kidnapped and murdered for ransom. Rosen explained that although some refugees are returning, the young Iraqi generation lives mostly in exile. Many cannot attend school because they have to work to survive.

Rosen shared that most of his friends involved in awakening groups have been arrested. He claimed that there is a scary future for Iraq. Towards the end of his lecture, Rosen highlighted the fate of the Palestinians in Iraq. Many Shiite militias target them mainly because they are associated with terrorism, so they have fled to “The No Man’s Land,” yet 600 have been murdered and 300 are missing.

“Everybody is traumatized; they have no out,” Rosen stated after sharing his personal interactions with Iraqis. However, he left the audience with hope that some signs indicate that life in Iraq is slowly improving. During his last visit to Iraq, Rosen saw Iraqis driving expensive cars, suggesting that people are better off financially. The overt sectarianism experienced a few years ago has reduced since both sides have accepted that the new Iraq will need to be built up without regard to old prejudices.