At the start of the current war, Iraq had approximately 900,000 to 1,100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) including 600,000 to 800,000 in the north.1 The war will have grave short-term and long-term consequences for people who are currently displaced, and may create many thousand more IDPs. IDPs form the most vulnerable segment of society greatly lacking the structures and resources to cope with war and its consequences.
The international community's experience of humanitarian crises in northern Iraq has centered on the Kurdish refugee emergency of 1991, i.e., a sudden, massive population displacement. This experience continues to shape current humanitarian planning for Iraq, despite that the situation in 2002-2003 is very different from 1991. Moreover, the key lesson of 1991 -- the successful effort to rapidly enable people to return home before they became an entrenched refugee population -- is being overlooked by relief planners.