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Story Publication logo September 11, 2008

Iraqi refugees: Perspectives on the U.S. responsibility

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An exodus of more than 2 million Iraqis is reshaping the Middle East -- with ominous implications...

Matthew Hay Brown, for the Pulitzer Center
Washington, DC

Last week, Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group became the latest in a series of refugee advocates to tell me that the United States owed a special obligation to the Iraqis that have fled the country since the 2003 invasion.

"The United States is responsible for this mess, frankly," said Hiltermann, a Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group. "It certainly was responsible for allowing the chaos that enveloped Iraq from 2005 on to happen. And it should therefore bear the responsibilities, the consequences."

John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a very different view of the U.S. obligation to the refugees.

"It was not the responsibility of the United States to turn the entire Iraqi population into a client of welfare because of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein," Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told me today. "The effort was to free the people of Iraq from this Baath Party dictatorship and to eliminate the threat that Saddam's regime posed to the of the region and the rest of the world because of his aggressive conduct. Now, I think we did that."

Bolton, who served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006, objected to what he described as an inclination by some toward "blaming every consequence of the overthrow of Saddam on the United States."

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