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Invisible Iraqis

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 Against a sensual and elegant backdrop of marble and lush carpets, impeccably attired men and women talk business in a room overlooking the fairy-tale lights of the city. The clink of ice in sparkling glasses, the splashing of Scotch and the fizz of soda mix with the talk and the muted laughter. The setting? Not Paris, or even Chicago or Dallas. This is the Le Royal Hotel in uptown Amman, where wealthy Jordanians, Iraqis and Americans come to deal.

Downtown, however, near the al-Husseini mosque and Roman ruins of the ancient city of Philadelphia, a very different picture unfolds: one of grinding poverty, fear and desperation. Off a narrow alley in a room without windows, lives one of the many poor refugee families from Iraq. Like those who have fled to Damascus and elsewhere, this family is in search of relief and an escape from the unrelenting violence.

"Mohammed" (not his real name) brought his family to Amman to find medical care for his son, and a life removed from the violence of Baghdad. In his prior life, he earned a living as a truck driver, but here in the city he and his four children, ranging from ages three to eleven, live out their time inside the dimly lit room so they won't be arrested as illegal refugees.

"Riya," his wife, spends her day sitting on the sidewalks of the old souk (marketplace) selling cigarettes, lighters and trinkets. She has a pleasant smile for each customer, but must be vigilant to ensure she doesn't get arrested or have her goods confiscated by the police. She wonders if anyone cares about her little family.

This family of six arrived four months ago from the Sadr City district of Baghdad to seek medical help for a son, Haider, whose leg and back were severely burned in 2004 when a Katusha rocket landed near their home. He still needs extensive medical treatment, as well as plastic surgery.

Since there was no hope for obtaining assistance in Iraq - all international aid organizations have fled the country - they saw Jordan as a new chance for their son. But so far, that has not proven to be the case. They receive some economic aid from Caritas, a Catholic social agency, but still struggle to pay their $65 monthly rent and buy food. Medical care is out of the question, whether for their son or for their other children, now suffering from malnutrition and from respiratory problems caused by the damp, moldy walls of the apartment.

If they don't find a solution, they fear they will have to return to Baghdad. "If I can't get help here," Mohammed said, "I would rather return to Sadr City, where at least my children can see the sun."

The plight of this family is shared by an estimated 750,000 refugees (The Hashemite Kingdom insists that they be called "guests.") who have fled to Jordan, according to the United Nations. During the past four years, between four and five million Iraqis have become displaced persons, either as refugees in neighboring countries or in Iraq itself. It is estimated that the humanitarian crisis is growing by 50,000 people per month.

Iraqis of substantial means meet at the Le Royal to discuss the latest news from Washington and oil politics of Iraq. Their families shop in the new Mecca Mall across town and buy coffee at Starbucks. In many ways, these few are little different from powerbrokers in the US capital.

They have the means to avoid the unpleasantness of the occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the true victims of war go unnoticed and ignored. They are invisible Iraqis.

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Charlie Jackson is sixth-generation Texan, international technology consultant, and founder of Texans for Peace. He recently returned from his third visit to Iraq.
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