Of all the problems that the U.S. troop withdrawal won't affect in Iraq, what to do about the number of internally displaced people looms the largest. As many as 2 million Iraqis — about 6 percent of the country's estimated population of more than 31 million — are thought to have been forced from the cities and towns where they once lived and are housed in circumstances that feel temporary and makeshift.
More than 500,000 of those are "squatters in slum areas with no assistance or legal right to the properties they occupy," according to Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group. Most can't go home: Either their homes have been destroyed or hostile ethnic and sectarian groups now control their neighborhoods.
Those who are displaced internally say the Iraqi government has done little or nothing to help them, and in some cases has even prevented them from returning to their homes.
The neighborhood of Amin al Ithania in north Baghdad didn't exist until 2005, when families from all over Iraq who'd been pushed out of their homes went there and quickly built cinder-block houses such as the one Umm Sajjad occupies.
Umm Sajjad — a nickname, because she didn't want her real name published for security reasons — first fled Kurdish militiamen in Mosul in 2003. She went to Diyala province, east of Baghdad, only to be driven out of there in 2007 by Sunni Muslim insurgents. She's a Shiite Muslim.
"I don't know who to blame," Umm Sajjad said. "The government, the people? There are many people in our situation. This whole neighborhood is displaced people. We have registered with the ministry, but we receive nothing."
Umm Sajjad's roof won't keep out the winter rains, and she can't afford panes for her windows. She relies on the government food rations that many Iraqis once depended on, but since 2003 the items in the package have been cut, and corruption within the Ministry of Trade has made shortages even more severe.
Democracy and freedom sure are messy. I was wondering the other day how the Iraqis feel today about our invasion? Yeah, Saddam sucked, but things don't seem much better for so many of them.