BAGHDAD – Actress and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie said Thursday that the reinforcement of U.S. troops in Iraq has created an opportunity for humanitarian programs to boost assistance for Iraqi refugees.
In an op-ed piece published by the Washington Post, titled "A Reason to Stay in Iraq," Jolie details the plight of refugees and says their conditions have not improved since she visited the country last August to urge governments to provide more support.
Jolie, who has been a U.N. goodwill ambassador since 2001, was in Baghdad earlier this month to again highlight the refugee problem. She talked with Gen. David Petraeus, the American military commander in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the U.S. Embassy said.
Petraeus "told me he would support new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis" as much as possible, "which leaves me hopeful that more progress can be made," the actress wrote.
She said she stressed to Iraqi officials there must be a coherent plan for helping some 2 million Iraqis who are taking advantage of the downturn in violence to begin trickling back to abandoned homes from havens elsewhere in the country. A similar number fled Iraq to escape the bloodshed.
"It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people," Jolie wrote. "But it is not too early to start working on solutions."
The actress, who works on behalf of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, urged America's presidential candidates and congressional leaders to step up financing for aid to displaced Iraqis. UNHCR has asked for $261 million this year — "less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq," she wrote.
Addressing the question of whether the "troop surge" has worked, Jolie said that "I can only state what I witnessed."
"When I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq," she wrote. "They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible."