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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Iraqi Exodus' tells the tales of the overlooked refugees

August 19, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

"Wide Angle," the documentary series on PBS, checks in today with "Iraqi Exodus," a first-rate look at one of the lesser-recognized problems associated with the war in Iraq: the flight of more than 2 million Iraqis from their homeland.

Aaron Brown, the lead reporter, talks with a variety of Iraqi exiles, many of them the educated middle-class that the country desperately needs as it struggles to rebuild.

Some were targeted by the Shiite-Sunni sectarian violence, others were persecuted because they were part of minority groups and some were marked for death because they dared work with the Americans.

While some of the refugees were former Baathists, Saddam Hussein's party, others had cheered when the U.S. toppled Hussein in 2003. "We dreamed that democracy would save us," says one man.

But those dreams were soon dashed. The refugees made the dangerous trek to Jordan and Syria, where their "host" countries were none too inviting. Unable to secure work permits, they live on their savings or local charity.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees struggles to help, but the U.S. government, its European allies and the oil-rich Arab countries are largely missing in action, Brown reports.

It is a "refugee crisis without refugee camps," which makes it largely invisible to the outside world. The individual stories are heart-wrenching.

"They blew up my house and I ran away," says one man who served as a translator for the U.S. Army.

Some women and girls turn to prostitution for survival, turning tricks for militia fighters on leave from Baghdad. Only one in five children from refugee families is in school, Brown reports.

One woman said she had an abortion because she and her husband cannot afford even to buy shoes for their two daughters. A 13-year-old boy says of Iraq, "It's my country; I miss it a lot." His father was kidnapped three years earlier.

It is, of course, a humanitarian catastrophe in the making. But the refugee community is also a potential recruiting bonanza for extremists. The forces of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr are dispensing some social services to refugee families, along with a helping of anti-American rhetoric.

Would that "Iraqi Exodus" could have put some tough questions to officials from the U.S. government and the nongovernmental relief agencies, but there are none here, with no explanation about why they're absent.

Brown does interview Queen Noor, American-born widow of Jordan's King Hussein. She warns that the refugees, already brimming with humiliation and anger, could destabilize her country, indeed the entire region.

"That is something I worry about every day," she says.

"Iraqi Exodus" argues persuasively that the U.S. should worry about it too.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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'Wide Angle: Iraqi Exodus'

Where: KCET

When: 9 tonight

Rating: Not rated

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