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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: Iraq's Refugees in Waiting

Council on Foreign Relations

April 2, 2007
Prepared by: Lionel Beehner

Jordanians call Mecca Mall, a bustling shopping center near downtown Amman, the Baghdad Mall. The bulk of its shoppers are Iraqis, one small manifestation of the region’s largest refugee crisis to unfold since 1948. Over one million Iraqis remain internally displaced, while more than 2 million have fled their homeland for safety abroad to wait out the war, spilling into neighboring states (WashPost) like Syria and Jordan. For the most part, they have been welcomed by locals. But tensions are brewing beneath the surface as government resources become increasingly strained.

In Amman, some Jordanians resent the Iraqi refugees because many of them have snapped up expensive real estate, driving up local housing prices (CSMonitor). Others have taken black market jobs, undercutting the wages of average Jordanians. Then there are security concerns as suspicions linger after the November 2005 attack by Iraqi suicide bombers at a string of hotels in Amman left sixty dead. Jordan and Iraq have long enjoyed strong relations, as Scott Lasensky of the U.S. Institute of Peace writes. But some Jordanian officials fear Iraq may export sectarian extremism and upset Jordan’s normally tranquil and relatively moderate society. Dana Moss writes in the Guardian that refugee populations, from Palestinians in Lebanon to Rwandans in Zaire, have proven historically prone to radicalization.

A country of less than six million, Jordan is stretched thin to handle the estimated one million Iraqis (Anna Husarska of the International Rescue Committee writes in Slate that would be proportionate to 38 million refugees entering the United States), to say nothing of the millions of Palestinians who have already settled in refugee camps clustered around Amman.

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