After a month of interviews highlighting many years of challenges, successes, and future prospects of NCCI, a final reflection on Iraq’s current situation and NCCI’s vision for future humanitarian work will hopefully serve to contextualize the purpose of many questions and answers. While it has been 10 years since the invasion of Iraq and the launch of the international humanitarian and developmental aid work in the country, it can be argued that little progress or stability has been witnessed in Iraq. It is without a doubt that most, if not all, gaps in Iraq are linked either directly or indirectly to the challenging political climate and the absence of a strong collective voice to represent the Iraqi community as a unified entity based on Iraqi national bond.
A simple yet revealing indicator of impact of the conflict in Iraq is that the average life expectancy at birth today is 58 years, which decreased from 65 years recorded in the 1980’s, and ten years less than the average for the region (67.5 years) and the world (68 years). The distribution of the Iraqi population is also another indicator of the impact of the conflict, as there are around 1.5 million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Iraq and almost twice that number living as refugees outside Iraq, according to UNHCR.
Iraq was once among the most diversified economies of the region, but today its high dependence on oil revenues has become a problem. This high dependency on oil is having an adverse effect as few/limited employment opportunities are generated, and fluctuations in oil prices and revenues invoke political tension, which in turn fuels disagreement over the ownership and division of revenue sources. 60% of Iraq’s GDP is generated from oil, and it accounts for 99% of exports and over 90% of the government’s revenue.
However, more than infrastructure, services and general economics, Iraq needs peace and reconciliation to exist among its own sons and daughters, without the influence of external powers that are not always aligned with the country’s best interests. This type of national healing can be only built internally by the country’s diverse communities, and if it is achieved then the possibilities for this exhausted country can truly be limitless.
NCCI is an organization that is dedicated to strengthening the coordination of aid and information sharing in Iraq, and many of its efforts are concentrated on strengthening Iraqi NGOs and CSOs to become more active and relevant to the building and healing process in the country. While the lack of mechanisms for effective participation hinders the ability of citizens to claim their full rights, it must be said that despite the national and regional tensions, the civil society community has been growing in size and effectiveness over the past ten years. In the years following the invasion and the civil war, the relationship between the population and authorities is becoming more cooperative and mutually accountable. Furthermore, local NGOs are beginning to play a larger role in Iraq’s development and civil society coordination. NCCI believes that this type of social development and integration is an essential factor for moving forward, and will therefore continue working to support the Iraqi civil society so that in the next ten years it can be said that it was not the politicians, the economists or the foreign countries that turned Iraq around, but instead it was the emerging sense of social responsibility and leadership of the Iraqi community that actually saved Iraq. As this change occurs, NCCI’s future role may take various forms in coordination or advocacy. However, this will be determined by the needs of the Iraqi community as a whole.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s present to give readers an insight into challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq
Program Manager - Nature Iraq
1) How did NCCI support and prepare its members for the withdrawal of U.S. troops?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: …I know that [the current Executive Coordinator] assisted me when I was with MCC with the design and dissemination of a questionnaire to local NGOs on their needs upon the withdrawal of the US troops. And he traveled to Washington DC to talk to US legislators about NGO needs. I have not yet seen the final documents from that effort.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): The general perception among NGOs community was no huge change in the security and political situation happen and result a huge change in the humanitarian situation in term of improvement or deterioration that need special response. However, the security situation was affected by the withdraw and NCCI the security coordination was strengthened by the creation of the security working group.
2) How was coordination, advocacy, and information sharing affected by the withdrawal?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: These may have become a little more challenging as the security situation has deteriorated since withdrawal, however, not substantially.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): As the security situation was became more tense after the withdrawal, coordination (including info sharing) and advocacy was more difficult than before. Access to the international zone (also known as the green zone) became more difficult after the withdrawal and UN coordination was based inside the IZ. More efforts were needed to maintain coordination mechanisms.
3) What is the biggest challenge facing NCCI’s network today and how can it be overcome?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: Capacity building for smaller NGOs in terms of administration, paperwork, grant writing and program management is a big need. The money is harder to come by now that the US and other governments have reduced funding to Iraq. It seems time that NGOs could work together more effectively.
Also, at a recent membership meeting, I felt that folks were attending for their own benefit, rather than for the good of a network body. This could also be addressed with capacity building.
[Additionally], in the KRG we need the NGO registration forms in English and some help completing them. I believe they are not available yet. I would also like to be better linked to the NGO coordinating body in the KRG government. I intend to ask [the NCCI Erbil office] to assist Heartland with that.
I wonder if NGOs in the KRG region should have a more sustainable coordination mechanism with local NCCI field officers. Like monthly meetings on various topics in each governorate.
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: Broadening NGO involvement in the network and advocating for NGOs rights with the Iraqi government.
4) How does Iraq’s coordination setting differ in the KRG and the centrally controlled governorates? And how does NCCI’s strategy differ in the two regions?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: Coordination is somewhat easier in KRG because movement is easier. However, there is some challenge because INGO offices are split between [Sulymaniyah] and [Erbil].
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: …Things seem to be simply easier to do/accomplish in the KRG
5) NCCI’s Executive Coordinator recently relocated from Amman to Baghdad. What are the advantages and disadvantages (if any) to NCCI’s members and Iraqi NNGOs as a whole?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: Even better, the Exec Coordinator is an Iraqi. Unfortunately, the work load to cover the entire country for this one person is immense whether in Amman or Baghdad. Is there some way that those duties could be spread across more staff - Empowering them to do more[?] It might be beneficial to have a KRG Director?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: The advantages are that is it much easier to access the EC and the EC has greater access to partner NGOs.
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: If you are asking about the advantages and disadvantages to this move, I think it is better for NNGOs but may make things somewhat more difficult for coordinating with international organizations and agencies that work out of Amman and not Baghdad.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): I believe re-locating the EC to Baghdad is an important step towards strengthening the field coordination since the majority of humanitarian actors were re-located to Iraq. However, re-locating the NCCI EC to Baghdad should be combined with strengthening NCCI’s presence in the northern and southern parts of the country, as not all the major actors are based in Baghdad, as was the case with Amman.
6) What has been the general response of the Iraqi public (excluding NGOs) to NCCI’s presence?
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: I can only talk from the perspective of the KRG and I don't think that the general public is very much aware of NCCI (but I'm not a Kurdish speaker and can't be sure of this). But is that a stated goal of NCCI? Its clients are NGOs, not specifically the Iraqi public. I do think that NCCI is helping NNGOs to become more professional so that these groups will interact with the Iraqi public in a professional and positive way.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s more recent history to give readers an insight into challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former Field Coordinator (2008-2011)
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012)
Former Information and Communications Coordinator (2005-2008)
Executive Coordinator (2012-present)
NCCI: In 2005, NCCI experienced a kind of reorganization, closing its Kuwait office, relocating its Baghdad support staff office to Amman, and rewriting its charter.
a) What was the reason for this major reorganization?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): There were multiple reasons and factors. Developing the Amman office was meant to [better] respond to all NGOs who relocated to Jordan for security reasons. Closing the Kuwait office was due to limited funds and a small presence of NGOs in Kuwait (most of them knew each other and didn’t need a heavy coordination mechanism). Maintaining Erbil was meant to link with many NGOs that relocated in the north. And, of course, maintaining Baghdad with all support staff relocated to Amman (communication, administration and finance etc…). But there was no immediate change in coordination teams and coordination mechanisms.
The Charter is a separate issue. NGOs decided to review the charter in order to open the doors to newborn NNGOs, to develop the advocacy and lobbying mandate in parallel to the coordination one, but also to include themes like capacity building, research and publications etc. One of the main reasons was also to re-affirm the principle of NGOs and, accordingly, NCCI.
There was also a hidden reason behind the new charter. In fact, between the departure of Philippe Schneider and my arrival, there was a gap in the management of NCCI. During this period, some non-genuine NGOs became members of the platform. It was easier to cancel all registrations and ask for re-registration, according the new charter and its principles. The best way to filter and get rid of some private companies registered as NGOs, or religious or political organizations with different agendas than the humanitarian imperatives.
b) How did this affect its ability to implement projects and coordination? What were the advantages and disadvantages?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): There were several reasons for the re-organization set up in 2005:
- Limited funds available for NCCI operations after July 2005
- A huge setup; NCCI had at that time (5 offices in Kuwait, Amman, Baghdad, Basra and Erbil with more than 60 staff members)
- The allocation of the majority of humanitarian actors to Amman
- The UN took the lead again on coordination, due to easy access of everyone to everyone in Amman (compared to Baghdad’s security difficulties(.
As for the change in the charter, in 2003, and the time of NCCI’s creation, many NGOs joined NCCI. NCCI had high levels of activities in terms of quality and quantity and the period witnessed the emergence of many active Iraqi NGOs. Due to all of this, there was a need to develop the charter according to: a) Iraq’s working environment, b) lessons learned during NCCI’s first year of working. To the best that I know, there was a need to review NCCI’s charter before 2005. However, and due to the high turnover in the Executive Coordinator position, this was not possible. After February 2005, NCCI had a strong leadership who started lobbying amongst members for necessary amendments in the charter.
NCCI: How did this affect its ability to implement projects and coordination? What were the advantages and disadvantages?
Former Information and Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): The reorganization affected a lot of the coordination. Imagine you go from a $1 million USD budget per year to $0. However, the change of charter enabled us to focus only on genuine humanitarian members, and also to open up to NNGOs. Therefore, to become stronger in front of adversity or to defend principles, as we all really stand on the same side.
NCCI: In what ways did the newly elected and formed Iraqi government facilitate or limit NCCI’s coordination activities? How did members (or the organization in question) reform their goals to adapt to the major political changes?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): There is no doubt that when a government starts working, coordination of the humanitarian efforts in this country will be the responsibility of this government. However, INGOs and other actors will need time to build trust with this government in order to join the governmental coordination mechanisms. NCCI’s coordination activities were indeed limited in Iraq after the formation of the new government, but this wasn’t due to this reason rather than the relocation of the majority of humanitarian actors to the neighboring countries.
The election of the new government didn’t change a lot of the reality of the humanitarian situation on the ground. However, the political overview (at national and international levels) adopted another direction. The international community welcomed the idea that “Reconstruction is Going Well in Iraq” while it was not going well and Iraq awoke in the beginning of 2006 to face one of the worst periods of sectarian violence and displacement in its history.
NCCI: In May, 2005 NCCI started having more interest in having NNGOs as members. Was this one of the reformed goals?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): Indeed, NNGOs started to be important actors in humanitarian operations in Iraq. The deterioration in the security situation pushed the majority of international humanitarian actors out of the county and those who stayed in Iraq were hosted in high security compounds with very limited access to the field. Being out of the country or hosted in secured shelters forced humanitarian actors to start new management systems and to act through local partners (NNGOs). NCCI’s charter was reformed to welcome the new actors in the humanitarian field, as during NCCI’s establishment there we very few NNGOs who were mainly based in the KRG.
NCCI: During the period of the formation of the government (2006-2008), a civil-war was also taking place.
a) How did NCCI navigate the volatile political and security landscape during this period?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): Like most Iraqis, we were observing, analyzing, networking, collecting information, and acting according the context, location, timing to insure our security and to survive as human beings. Politically speaking, Iraq was strongly fragmented and having a global understanding of the situation needed additional research, understanding etc… to provide a coherent and consistent independent reading of the situation to our members in order to survive as an institution.
Our neutrality, our principles, our transparency, our network and our constant effort to explain who we are and acting according our principles helped us navigate the specific context described in your question.
b) What were the challenges and in which areas of its initiatives did NCCI excel?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): Security analysis, incident anticipation, good contacts in the field, overview about the situation for the new comers to Iraq were the main elements of NCCI’s added value for NCCI for those who are stationed out of Iraq. Connections with other actors, links to the field, and information about who is doing what and where were very much appreciated services by NCCI’s members.
NCCI: How has NCCI’s registration as a Swiss NGO and Jordanian and Iraq INGO changed its role in Iraq’s humanitarian context and relationship with its members?
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): By creating a legal presence in all three countries, NCCI is now better positioned to advocate on behalf of its members at an international level about the situation in Iraq. For example, we were able to gain ECOSOC status (something that would not have been achieved without our Swiss presence) enabling NCCI to bring humanitarian and developmental issues in Iraq to various UN fora, the European Union and significant donors. This is hugely important given the reduced attention for Iraq amongst international communities.
NCCI: With the decrease in violence and end of the civil war, how did NCCI and its members reorient themselves to new and developing needs of Iraqi humanitarian and civil society?
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): Despite the fact that Iraq has always had a very strong sense of the need for civil society and a civil society itself, it became very clear in the past 5 years that existing civil society organizations needed a lot of support and training if they were going to have any real impact. NCCI started to focus more closely on Iraqi NGOs as potential members and indeed board members, in an effort to closely link NNGOs to INGOs and other international agencies. This has had quite an impact on NCCI's work as it is currently the first organization that an international agency will contact when aiming to be linked with civil society groups and NNGOs. This is a vital service for Iraq given the established lack of access in the field due to a continuing unstable environment.
NCCI's members started to re-orientate projects towards the emerging long term developmental needs. They did this also using more and more Iraqi NGO partners, also training NNGOs how to implement such projects. Consequently, NNGOs started to skill up in certain areas.
NCCI: How did projects change in response to Iraq’s post-civil war status? What role did NCCI have in rebuilding?
Former Field Coordinator (2008-2011): Since its inception, NCCI has been one of the major actors in prioritizing needs and setting the agenda for civil society in Iraq. NCCI continued highlighting the needs within the Iraqi context whether relief-oriented or development-oriented, by means of its field-based networks and nation-wide partnerships with different stakeholders. NCCI initiatives designed and implemented its activities in light of its awareness of the constantly changing needs of the humanitarian context in Iraq. Therefore, NCCI's projects varied from needs assessments, coordination of assistance provision, and relief delivery, to more developmental projects of civic education, capacity building, peace building, and community involvement in the democratic process at large.
The death toll of the Syrian Uprising to date is nearly four times greater than that of all of the other Arab Springs combined except Libya – some 11,000 dead in total.[i] Furthermore throughout the Uprising's first year both the rates of violent deaths in Syria, and in parallel refugee displacement therefrom, have been accelerating sharply. Monthly figures of Syrians killed by violence doubled in each of four consecutive periods reaching 2,000 per month by March 2012. The rate of displacement has accelerated in parallel, doubling in the last two months the number reached in the previous ten. In mid-April 2012 UNHCR reported that the number of Syrian refugees in Syria's four neighbors stands at 55,000 registered. Conservative estimates put a further more than 200,000 Syrians as displaced within their own country (Syrian Red Crescent).
Given Iraq's own recent and incomplete immergence from insurgency, terrorism and civil war, it is unsurprising that the first waves of refugees have chosen and continue to prefer to go to Syria's other three neighbors (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon). But for some – both new Syrian refugees and Iraqi refugees displaced back to their countries of origin – Iraq may be the only place they can go, and their numbers have been accelerating as the Syrian Uprising passes its one-year anniversary. This is especially true in light of current trends of violence which indicate that a serious risk remains of violence increasing, spreading its geographic reach, and becoming more sectarian in nature – even as a 6-point peace plan has been nominally agreed upon by both opposition and government forces and the first batches of UN observers deployed.
Syrians Fleeing Syria
When first looking at Iraq it might seem logical to ask who would seek refugee from a war zone in a country with its own ongoing conflict? Actually, there are a number of highly compelling reasons for certain segments of Syrian society and the Iraqi refugee population in Syria to seek to come to Iraq.
Iraqi violence is still extremely high, but also highly concentrated in certain areas. The northernmost three provinces (the Kurdish Region) and southernmost six provinces account for only some 4% of violent incidents throughout the country though they represent 50% of the country's provinces. Most of the Syrians seeking refuge in Iraq are males (80%), young and unaccompanied (60%), of Kurdo-Syrian origin, many fleeing mandatory military service. They seek refuge under the auspices of the Kurdish Regional Government because of its proximity to their provinces of origin (Hasakeh, Qamishli, in the Kurdish-dominated North-East of Syria, although there are also refugees to a lesser extent from Reef Dimashq, Damascus and Aleppo), shared language (despite differences in dialect) and perceived sympathy of the authorities in the semi-autonomously governed KRG. Most importantly, for those who are deserters some of Syria's other neighbors that still have or are rumored to have intelligence coordination with the current Syrian government (Lebanon, from whence deserters have already been returned across the border, and to a lesser degree Jordan) are therefore less appealing options for fear of refoulement. Although those who have fled to Iraq represent only roughly 1 in every 24 Syrian refugees at the time of writing their particular needs and vulnerabilities mean that as long as violent conflict continues anywhere in Syria their numbers are likely to continue to rise. Likewise, even if violence subsides, so long as the Syrian government remains the same, deserters among the ranks of the Syrian refugees in the KRG will be unable to return home for fear of imprisonment, torture or death.
Due to snowballing rates of Syrian refugee entries in the Kurdish Region of Iraq, the KRG, the UNHCR, International Organization for Migration (IOM), partner NGOs such as Qandil, and NNGOs such as the Kurdistan Civil Rights Organization (KCRO) have been focused on providing food and non-food assistance as well as constructing a second refugee camp called "Domiz" in Dohuk for Syrian nations. The KRG already had a refugee camp ("Qamishli"). However it became overcrowded following the wave of refugees of the 2011-2012 Syrian uprising. Indeed the population of Syrian refugees in the KRG jumped from only 360 on March 31st 2012 and an estimated 760 arrivals altogether, to over 1,776 registered and 2,376 arrivals 2 weeks later (UNHCR estimates). The Sunni-Arab dominated province of al-Anbar, which faces much higher levels of violence and is under the direct control of Baghdad has also engaged in the establishment of camp facilities to accommodate persons displaced by violence in Syria, about 10km away from the al-Walid border crossing, but has apparently not witnessed notable levels of arrivals to date.
Iraqis Refugees Fleeing Syria
The 102,000 currently registered Iraqi refugees in Syria, amid a government estimate of 1 million Iraqis in total there, are both the most numerous and the poorest of the Iraqi populations outside of Iraq. They are therefore particularly at risk either if forced to return home or if they stay as the situation heats up in Syria. To date there has been no mass departure of Iraqi refugees from Syria. However it is notable that according to Iraqi Government figures in 2011, 67,000 Iraqis registered as returned from Syria double the number in 2009 and 2010 combined. The average monthly rate of Iraqi refugee returns from Syria doubled again over 2011 in the first quarter of 2012 alone (UNHCR/IMoDM).
A combination of the very recent encroachment of Uprising-related violence to the populations hubs where Iraqi refugees are concentrated, and unrelated longer-standing incentives to return, are behind the jump in the rate of Iraqi refugee returns to Iraq witnessed during the last year.
For most of the first year of the Syrian uprising whose first anniversary was in March 2012, the safety of Iraqi refugees residing in Syria was by and large not directly affected because Iraqi refugees largely did not live in areas where protest and consequently violence was occurring. The overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees in Syria live in the political and the economic capitals of the country (Damascus and Aleppo). While areas such as Homs, Daraa, and Idlib, have experienced shelling employing heavy artillery in broad daylight, and some of the capital's suburbs require as many as 7 check-points and an ID indicating residence in the area to move in and out of them, restaurants in the capital continue to remain open and people in the streets past midnight throughout the events in the rest of the country. This has only changed in the past 4 months, with a campaign of bombings finally bringing more concentrated violence to Damascus and Aleppo.
Incentives for Iraqis to return home unrelated to the Syrian Uprising include a notable drop since around 2009 in violence in Iraq to a tenth of the circa 2007 heights of the Iraqi Civil War. This maintained drop in violence, in addition to monetary incentives provided by the government, has been one of the main reasons for increases in the return of Iraqi IDPs to their homes during the last year. Other incentives for Iraqi refugees in Syria to return home also include the fact that the population of Iraqis that went to Syria (which has practically implemented an open-door policy for Iraqi refugees unlike other neighbors such as Jordan which imposed quotas and strict education requirements etc.) were the poorest. Thus for this population the drying up of savings has long been an ever increasing concern, particularly in light of the fact that technically it is illegal for them to work in their host country although many do menial jobs for sub-normal salaries under the table. The doubling of the prices of many essential food items in Syria during the course of the last year as a result of international economic sanctions only makes the situation of economically and legally vulnerable persons in Syria even more so.
On balance the increasing wave of Iraqi returns from Syria may have more to do with negative pressure than positive incentives however. A survey by UNHCR just before the start of the protest movement in Syria which found that most refugees surveyed were still unwilling to return home permanently has led some analysts to deem the increase in returns during the period of the Syrian Uprising "premature", i.e. the result of a choice between two bad options rather than a comfortable and truly voluntary decision to return home.
Outlook on Violence in Syria: Possibility of Proxy Wars and Consequent Displacement
The year of the Syrian Uprising since its inception in March of 2011 has seen a shift from a predominantly peaceful protest movement towards increased armed conflict in which outside states have high stakes, and the tactics of the Syrian government, outsiders and even the armed groups among the opposition themselves could contribute not only to increases in violence but also its greater sectarianization.
Starting December 23rd 2011, a series of bombings have rocked the capital which had previously been spared the violence. The Syrian government calls such incidents evidence of the rise of violent, foreign-funded, salafi-takfiri extremist Islamist currents in the opposition. By contrast the Syrian opposition has accused the government of staging the attacks to justify its crackdown on the uprising. In particular, the Syrian opposition notes that many of the bombings have taken place in the few areas of the capital where protests have occurred, or like the first attacks, just before unarmed (Arab League) observers were scheduled to deploy in Damascus. In this way the attacks allowed the state to restrict the movements of the monitors with a safety detail the government stated that it was providing for the monitors' security. Such explosions have continued and increased since the deployment of the UN observer mission.
Indeed, opposition forces see the likes of these bombings as part of greater theatrics put on by the state, including government-permitted or even government-sponsored violence in minority-dominated areas, and distribution of weapons 'for the self-protection' of citizens in minority areas, as a regime tactic to divide possible opposition along sectarian lines, and scare minorities and fence-sitters into blind support of the state's program of violence by proposing the security provided by the current government, or a Lebanese/Iraqi civil war scenario without it, as the only two possible outcomes of the protest movement. A fairly clear series of concessions to certain long-time opposition Syrian Kurdish parties – promising to grant citizenship rights to 300,000 stateless Syrian Kurds and even allowing the opening of some PKK-run Kurdish language instruction (previously not even legal much less encouraged) is seen by the opposition as further evidence of the state's divide and conquer strategy, and attempt to neutralize a large swath sector of Syrian society (Syrian Kurds), a potentially very potent oppositional force representing more than a tenth of the state's population. Some Syrian Kurdish parties like the Kurdish Yekiti Party (KYP) have thrown in their lot with the Syrian protest movement. However regarding the PKK, one of the stronger of the Kurdish parties the tactic has so far apparently worked. Indeed, PKK fighters have even assisted in inhibiting protests in some areas and the PKK has announced that if Turkey interfered in the Uprising, it would stand with the current Syrian government.
The precise levels of exaggeration from either side are difficult to discern in an atmosphere where free press remains almost entirely banned by authorities in Syria. However even if the Syrian government's version of events is accurate they mean that the violent conflict has arrived to the political and economic hubs of the country where Iraqi refugees have been centered. Likewise whether the result of genuine targeting of minorities by extremists or state fabrication thereof, rising levels of violence have resulted in some de-facto segregation of sects. This includes for example the flight of many Alawites (the sect of the president, and one notably over-represented in the still loyal upper-echelons of the army) to the coastal areas where they are more dominant, and Christians, from areas witnessing intensified violence like Homs. Isolation of sectarian groups from one another and blanket-association of whole minority groups as "regime supporters" increases potential for balkanization of the conflict. Balkanization of the conflict would be a major issue in a state with such a rich diversity of ethnic and sectarian groups.
Following the deployment of a UN observer mission due to report on the implementation of cessation of hostilities starting April 12th 2012, the daily rates of killing of Syrians dropped sharply. However they have increased from the first days of the mission. Two weeks after the supposed implementation of cessation of hostilities by both sides, and assurance of free movement for the press by authorities, in some of most sensitive areas (such as Homs) attacks are nearly back to pre-ceasefire levels, the state's heavy weaponry remains positioned in heavily populated urban areas, and journalism no freer. This has led some observers to label the mission a failure as the Arab League observer mission was before it. As one journalist asked rhetorically, regarding the arrival of a Norwegian general arriving as part of the second deployment of UN, "I wonder if by the time he gets to Syria, there will be any cease-fire left to monitor?"
The failure of the Kofi Annan brokered peace-plan and the UN observer mission is still unconfirmed. If the mission is beefed up from its current 15 persons, to at least the full 300-persons agreed upon by the UN Security Council, or what opposition leaders see as a minimum of 2-3,000 person size to be able to truly do their job in a country of 22 million, it might yet succeed or at least continue to put a damper of violence and allow greater peaceful protests to organize without fear of imprisonment or armed retribution by state forces. By some estimates, the largest number of protests to occur to date was 715 separate gatherings on April 13rd (i.e. immediately following the arrival of the observer mission). However if the UN observer mission fails or continues to flounder, and possibly even if it does not, regional interests in the preservation of the Syrian government (Iran, Hezbollah, Russia whose only warm water port is located on the Syrian coast) or change of the Syrian government (notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the US) could tip the conflict into a much more violent and difficult to stop proxy-war. Russia and Iran already provide military and strategic support to the Syrian government. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have openly discussed supporting the possibility of foreign military intervention in Syria. This is unlikely to occur given the unwillingness of any major military powers currently to devote boots on the ground, or even planes, to such a mission. However indirect support of armed opposition forces is well within the range of possibilities, with states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar recently putting forward a pledge of 100 million US dollars to pay for the salaries of the (opposition, defector-lead) Free Syrian Army first announced in July 2011 after 5 months of state crackdown on the peaceful protest movement, the discipline of whose leadership structure is uncertain, and among whose ranks some cases of torture of prisoners have already immerged.
The sustainability of the two week drop in levels of violence following the deployment of a UN observer mission to Syria is as yet unclear. If the UN peace-plan is not proven to be working soon, the combination of a tenacious state willing to employ even heavy weaponry in heavily populated civilian centers to stop the protest movement, a highly fragmented Syrian opposition even on the most basic issues (such as foreign intervention or arming the opposition), interest of wealthy foreign backers in funding the arming of diverse parties to the conflict, and some evidence of de-facto sectarian segregation raise the specter of an even more serious proxy-conflict with intensified overtones of sectarian violence. As such the failure of the UN mission would likely signal a return of Syria to the patterns of death and displacement of Syrians and Iraqi refugee returns from Syria to Iraq as had been occurring and indeed escalating for the previous year. With the March 2012 UN call for funding for the plan for assisting Syrian refugees regionally only 20% funded to date, and the Iraqi government still facing a lack of capacity in implementing its promised and legislated assistance and benefits for returning citizens, questions remain in Iraq as in other neighboring countries, how the needs of the displaced will be filled if this scenario occurs.
The Syrian Uprising and Iraq: Returnees, Refugees, and Revolutionarie, the NGO Coordination Commitee for Iraq, 1 May 2012, by Ana Nikonorow
[i] The United Nations estimated the more than 9,000 civilians had been killed in the course of the Syrian Uprising by March 2012, the Uprising's one year anniversary (U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process speaking before the UNSC, 27 March 2012). Syrian non-governmental groups, counting combatant deaths beginning in March 2012 and extending through the beginning of May 2012 range in their estimates from the Center for Documentation of Violation in Syria (749 combatant deaths), to the Syrian Martyrs Organization (1,210 military deaths), to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (3,145 combatant deaths to April 16th only). Although the Syrian government's estimate of overall deaths at 6,044 in April 2012 was much lower than the UN or Syrian opposition/human rights groups, the Syrian government places their estimates of combat deaths much higher. The Syrian opposition and human rights groups counting combatant and non-combatant deaths place their total estimates of Syrian dead notably higher than the UN for the period through end of April 2012: (10,966 total deaths) according to the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, (12,269 total deaths) according to the Syrian National Council, and (10,281 total deaths) according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A concise sketch of the reporting methods of the various organization cited above, and the weaknesses of these methods, may be found in an piece by Eman El-Shenawi, "Raising a brow at the Syrian death toll, al-Arabiya, 25 March 2012. Taking into consideration the above calculations, this article has employed 11,000 as a highly rough median estimate employed in an environment where reliable estimates are extremely difficult to obtain.
Syrian refugees have been entering Iraq at inconsistent rates. While Kurdistan has maintained a generally open policy toward refugees, most of whom have been Syrian Kurds, Baghdad has remained fickle regarding its stance toward evacuees. After opening the border for a brief stint between July and August, Baghdad closed its al-Qaem border on August 16th, only to reopen it again on September 18th with some improved humanitarian conditions, yet generally insufficient provisions, such as a lack of hygienic supplies, low quality and quantity food, as well as inadequate medical assistance. Various reasons were given for closing the border concerning both camp capacity and domestic security. In Kurdistan, some younger male refugees have been welcomed and provided with military training.
On August 16th, when Baghdad decided to close al-Qaem border in al-Anbar province, two reasons were given, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. The first reason was to wait for UNHCR to improve the camp and prepare for more refugees. The project included additional shelter, medical supplies, food supplies, and a plan to expand the water quantity to 470,000 liters. After the project, the camp was to be reopened (al-Qaem city council cited this as the main reason). The other reason, however, was security. The same HRW report states that “Iraqi authorities have announced that they will re-open the border after expanding the capacity of a camp at al-Qaem, though an official at Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration told Human Rights Watch on August 27th that the ministry had not recommended closing the border and described the decision as purely a ‘security measure.’”
Baqer Jabr al-Zubaidi, a former finance and interior minister, who is now a parliament member from Mr. Maliki's coalition was also quoted saying “[i]f al-Qaeda succeeds in toppling the regime in Syria, then the Shiite government in Iraq will be next."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari further supported al-Zubaidi’s assertion in a separate statement: "The flow of refugees, the entrenchment of terrorist organizations, the veil of a fundamentalist regime, all this could impact us," Zebari told Reuters. "We are trying to take an independent position. Based on our national interests... Things are not black and white."
Although there is no evidence whether closing the border actually contributed to Iraq’s national security and prevented infiltrators, it certainly had not stopped shelling and other threats from across the border. On September 7th, 3 shells were launched into Iraq from the Abu Kamal district in Syria, killing 2 civilians, one of whom was a 5-year-old girl, and injuring 5 others. And while the official rhetoric focuses on preventing a “Sunni” threat, the rockets were Russian Katyusha rockets, which were most likely used by the regime.
Eventually, al-Qaem was reopened on Tuesday, September 18th, with increased security, which, as of September 24th, prevents single young men from entering the camp, allowing only women, children, and elderly or sick people. Between September 19th and the 23rd, a total of 618 Syrian refugees were granted entrance into the Iraqi territories, averaging 123 people per-day.
Tying up humanitarian issues with national security is not new; nor is prioritizing national security over human rights. However, the way by which al-Zubaidi and Zebari generalize the identity of Syrian refugees and link their migration with al-Qaeda, while placing them in opposition to the “Shiite government in Iraq,” distances officials from a responsibility for fundamental humanitarian matters. By conjuring the al-Qaeda threat, real or imagined, and associating it with an influx of a population in need, the Iraqi government can, and has been able to, justify almost any policy on the basis of an identity.
Conversely in the north, the KRG hosts their (mostly Kurdish) refugees very differently. As of September 28rd, the KRG hosts approximately 28,074 refugees distributed throughout Domiz camp in Dohuk, as well as host communities in Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah. There is also a new camp under construction in Kasak, Mosul. Syrian Kurdish politics and their relationship with the KRG have created new regional dynamics, while the lack of international aid has generated domestic tension.
Syrian Kurdish identity in the KRG, as it relates to armed resistance, functions on several levels. By providing arms and military training, the KRG and various Kurdish political parties are offering a solution to Syria’s uprising, which would simultaneously provide “protection” to Kurdistan and offer a new instrument for Syrian Kurdish autonomy. However, the overall goals of the new militia are ambiguous.
Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) external relations chief, Hayman Hawrami, said that they provided military training to many of the young men “so they can be a main supporter of the Syrian opposition and a main supporter of the positive change in Syria.” Furthermore, although the training has been viewed as an aggressive measure, both by Baghdad and Ankara, Kurdish officials, such as Saleh Muslim, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, maintain that it is “for the purpose of protection” and not explicitly to fight in Syria.
There are also opportunities for conflict. Although Iraqi Kurds have already established an autonomous region and maintain a distinct heritage, part of their culture is still intrinsically tied to Iraqi Arab culture because of their converging histories, governments, customs, and even ethnicities. This is analogous to Kurds who live/lived in Syria and their relationship with Syrian Arab identity. Syrian Kurds may experience inequality for a number of reasons because they are “visitors” and have entered into a reciprocal relationship with their Iraqi Kurdish comrades. They may even face conflict if they support the PYD, a rival faction of the two ruling parties in the KRG and believed by some Syrian opposition websites to be supported by the al-Assad regime. Many Syrian Kurds are still fighting for their own autonomous region in northeast Syria and do, in fact, support the PYD. And although it is entirely possible that conflictive politics will be avoided and cooperative politics will prevail, this depends on how the factors above are publicly addressed and the ways by which conflicts are resolved.
Furthermore, international aid has also been a key concern for the KRG. The KRG has petitioned for additional and necessary aid from various sources to provide refugees with vital assistance during the upcoming months as winter approaches and more refugees enter Kurdistan. It has not yet received a sufficient sum, nor comparable to other host governments. Shakir Yasin, the Kurdish official who is in charge of Syrian refugees in the KRG, mentioned his petition to the EU. “Their reply was that the number of refugees should be at least 15,000 to qualify for financial aid. The number reported by the Kurdistan Region has exceeded 27,000 so far, and still nothing has happened.” While it is unclear if other governments are directly funding Kurdistan, the KRG has recently allocated $10 million to support Syrian refugees within its borders. The KRG has not placed any limits on refugee capacity as yet. Therefore, without significant international financial assistance, the strain and limit on the KRG’s resources will be felt by many.
The KRG maintains a volatile relationship with almost all of its neighbors, including Turkey, Iran, and Syria, as well as Baghdad. The mass influx of Syrian refugees into Iraq, combined with the KRG and Baghdad’s different reactions, creates new opportunities for opposition and conflict. Political and regional alliances, as well as demographic shifts are occurring, which will consequently inform and affect how NGOs operate in Iraq.
Trafficking in persons makes the headlines of newspapers again in the region. This time, it is the trafficking in Syrian girls and widows under the pretext of marriage and protection. This brings back to memory the plights of the Iraq war, as some of the female refugees were subjected to conditions of trafficking in Iraq’s neighboring countries and some of the Gulf States. Trafficking in persons is a phenomenon that accompanies wars and unrest.
One international NGO has recently worked closely with the Iraqi government and local NGOs in this field. Heartland Alliance says “whenever people are forced to become refugees, they are vulnerable to being exploited. Trafficking exists in Iraq right now, and it might occur in the Syrian refugee community”.
Iraq, while still under Tier 2 Watch List according to the latest US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2012, has made some progress last year and certainly has a good anti-trafficking Law to start with.
However, and despite efforts exerted by several international and national organizations, participation of civil society in combating trafficking in persons in Iraq is not as strong as it needs to be.
Vulnerability of Refugees
In response to several reports about cases in which Jordanian men were marrying young Syrian girls from the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan under the pretext of protecting them, a group of Syrian activists launched an online campaign called “Refugees, not Spoils of War”, reported Lebanon Now.[i]
In other countries, similar stories are evident. But in Al-Qaem Camp in Anbar-Iraq, you hear different stories. The family and tribal connections among the Syrian refugees, who only recently started crossing to Iraq seeking safe refuge, and the host communities in Iraq are very strong and respected by all. According to one Iraqi NGO, only one case of sexual assault was reported in the al-Qaem Camp and was solved immediately. Another factor playing a major role in protecting young Syrian girls from such a destiny is the almost full closure of the camp by the Iraqi government, which closely monitors the in-and-out movement.
However, Heartland Alliance draws attention to the following fact: “trafficking can occur within a country, without the victim ever crossing an international border. For example, many Arab women from the south were kidnapped by armed militias in 2006 and some of them were sold for prostitution in the Kurdistan region. Others were transported across international borders, to Syria, the UAE and Lebanon. There was one case in which the police arrested a man in Kirkuk who was in the business of selling women to Syria. The same thing can happen now, in the other direction, with Syrian women being forced into prostitution in Iraq. Up to date, no such cases were reported, but it is possible that this is happening or might happen”.
UN agencies, such as UNAMI and UNHCR are certainly aware that trafficking occurs. Anyone who suspects that trafficking is occurring can contact a UN agency. The EU has provided capacity building to the judiciary and relevant governmental entities. IOM also monitors trafficking in persons as well as various women’s organizations that work on gender-based violence and routinely come across victims of trafficking.
For its part, Heartland Alliance is committed to assisting the Iraqi government and the KRG to implement the law and is always available for consultation.
Precautious measures do need to be put in place as of now.
Anti-Trafficking in Persons Laws in the Region
Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and more recently Iraq have issued anti-trafficking in persons laws to prohibit all forms of trafficking. Turkey is yet to issue a similar law.
Although the anti-trafficking in persons law in Iraq, described as a “comprehensive” one by the State Department Report, is enforced, no prosecutions have so far been implemented. Iraq has convicted some traffickers under other laws, charging the perpetrators of kidnapping, assault and involvement in prostitution.
The Central Committee, formed under Article 2 of the Iraqi Trafficking in Persons Law, titled the Central Committee to Prevent Human Trafficking, has convened a couple of times and drafted executive orders, which usually interpret a given law to facilitate implementation. In late September 2012, a meeting chaired by Baghdad’s Governor took place in order to “draft a strategy to activate the functionalities of the counter trafficking in persons Committee.” Members of the Committee include representatives from Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Justice, Finance, Social Affairs and Immigration as well as the Human Rights Commission, Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi provinces, but no civil society organization is on board.
Heartland Alliance in Iraq
In a recently implemented project, Heartland Alliance provided legal representation and social services to victims of human trafficking, assisted the Iraqi government in prosecuting traffickers, and trained law enforcement and NGOs to identify and respond to human trafficking.
The project took place in Baghdad, Basra, the KRG, Jordan and Lebanon. The project assisted more than 200 victims over three years in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, with the largest number in Baghdad. Heartland Alliance assisted in the prosecution of more than 12 persons for forcing women into prostitution or other forms of forced labor. The ones that occurred in Iraq prior to the passage of the Law were treated as rape cases and rape charges were brought against the offenders.
It is important to define trafficking because sometimes people confuse it with smuggling of persons, or with prostitution, says Heartland Alliance.
Trafficking is the act of recruiting, holding, selling or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. Trafficking means that a trafficker forces a person to do some work or provide some service against their will or by tricking them. Common forms of trafficking include forced prostitution, taking the passports and then physically or sexually abusing domestic servants, and tricking children or persons with disabilities into working without pay. Trafficking can take place within national boundaries or across international boundaries.
A majority of the trafficking victims assisted by Heartland Alliance were women and girls forced into prostitution. Heartland Alliance also assisted some foreign workers. The NGO also collaborated with IOM, the Iraqi Government and the KRG government on an effort to get an anti-trafficking act passed in Iraq, which occurred last spring.
Currently, Heartland Alliance works with the Central Committee on implementing the Law.
Gaps in Addressing the Problem
Heartland Alliance believes there are several gaps that need to be addressed.
As parts of Iraq become more peaceful, foreign workers are again entering the country. This is especially true in the KRG. One of the biggest gaps is the lack of a government response to protect foreign workers who have their passports taken from them, or are forced to do some work they did not agree to, or are abused by their employers. A recent report on domestic servants in Jordan and Lebanon showed that more than half of foreign domestic servants were physically abused by their employers, forced to do work that was not in their contract, and in some cases sexually abused by their employers. This problem also occurs in Iraq. The central government and particularly the KRG need to establish enforcement mechanisms so that foreign workers can complain about abuses, be listened to, and be protected. Employers should not be allowed to take away workers’ passports or restrict workers from leaving the house. The government needs to control employment agencies and assure that they educate all foreign workers of their rights. Employment agencies serve a valuable function but they need to help prevent trafficking and they also need to be regulated and monitored by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Interior.
Women and girls who are forced into prostitution are at terrible risk anywhere in Iraq. Police and judges sometimes do not consider coercion or force as a defense in prostitution cases. It is important for everyone to remember that if a woman was forced into prostitution she is a victim and not a criminal. Sometimes women and girls are forced into prostitution by their own families. Other families may feel such shame over what happened that they blame the girl and even try to kill her. Safety planning and confidentiality are really important. Often women can be reunited with their families but this has to be arranged and monitored very carefully. One of the remaining problems is making sure that women who cannot reunite with their families can live safely and independently without becoming victims of trafficking again.
Any organization that works with female victims of trafficking should have a background in protecting victims of gender-based violence, because some of the problems facing the women are the same. Above all, any program addressing the problem has to take a victim-centered approach. Sometimes the easiest solution is not the best. Victims of trafficking lose the ability to make decisions regarding their own lives. Programs who assist victims of trafficking have a responsibility not only to protect them, but to give them back the power to make decisions over their lives.
Heartland Alliance partnered with local NGOs, including Harikar and al-Masala in the KRG to implement the project. The local NGOs received training on legal services and also on mediation. Capacity building was also achieved through learning-by-doing as the national NGOs worked closely with an INGO whose mission is to advance the human rights and respond to the human needs of endangered populations—particularly the poor, the isolated, and the displaced—through the provision of comprehensive and respectful services and the promotion of permanent solutions leading to a more just global society.
Heartland Alliance trained many policemen and also Asaysh in the KRG. Some of them might be monitoring the situation in view of the recent influx of Syrian refugees. Some police are dedicated and understand the issue. They can be counted on to assist a trafficking victim in a humane way.
NGOs and CSOs can be involved in several ways, says Heartland Alliance.
First, NGOs and CSOs can educate themselves and Iraqi society on trafficking, and reinforce the idea that women and girls are not property. Women who are forced into prostitution are victims and not criminals. Likewise, women and girls should not be forced to marry against their will, or be traded in order to settle problems between families, as still occurs in some parts of Iraq. Changing these patterns requires education, and both NGOs and CSOs have a big role to play.
Second, many women’s organizations are already important in providing services to victims of trafficking. They need more funding, and they need official support from government agencies. Women’s organizations can also work collaboratively with the police to monitor women’s rights and help educate police on identifying victims.
Third, NGOs and CSOs can provide information on trafficking to IOM, which tracks and monitors human trafficking in Iraq.
Fourth, NGOs and CSOs should remember that foreign workers may become victims of trafficking. Those organizations that have legal services projects or run shelters should be prepared to assist foreign workers on occasion, if the worker is at risk of violence.
Civil society organizations and NGOs working in Iraq are encouraged to launch more initiatives to prevent trafficking in persons and protect the victims. They are called on to participate.
N.B. Heartland Alliance’s mediation manual is available on its website at: www.heartlandalliance.org/international.
Although Iraq’s revenue is rapidly increasing, official consideration of humanitarian issues is taking a back seat, external funding for development is diminishing, and corruption appears to be thriving amidst undemocratic practices. These issues are most clearly manifested in the nation’s 2013 budget proposal, the largest budget in the country’s history. Out of the colossal 138 trillion Iraqi Dinars (USD 118.6 billion), most notable are the allocations to oil production in the form of foreign and domestic projects, the security and defense sectors, and the Prime Minister’s office. To be sure, the primary reason for the exceptionally large budget is oil revenue and production, as Iraq boasts the fourth largest oil reserves in the world and may quickly become the world’s second largest oil producer. It is, therefore, worth exploring how Iraq’s 2013 budget reflects the ways in which oil production affects state power, humanitarian funding, and social programs.
Oil Production and State Power
Proposed by the Ministry of Finance, the 2013 budget displays an 18% increase from the 2012 budget of ID117 trillion. According to Ali al-Dabbagh, an official government spokesperson, the figures are partially based on expected average oil prices of $90 per barrel, and exports of 2.9 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) (of which 250 thousand bpd are planned from the Kurdistan region). Revenues based on these calculations are expected to contribute to 95% of the 2013 budget. These figures are compared to Iraq's 2012 draft budget, which forecasted oil exports of 2.6 million bpd, a significant increase from Iraq's average of 2.2 million bbl/day in 2011. In fact, predictions are being made all the way up to the year 2035 of a yearly average of $200bn in oil revenue (The Guardian).
Although it is clear that Iraq’s oil exports and revenues are increasing, the strong influence of oil production on Iraq’s budget works both politically and socially. To be sure, many of the world’s developed and developing economies depend heavily on oil. However, there appear to be inconsistencies between the domestic politics of oil producers and oil consumers. The production and consumption of oil often seem to have a connection to undemocratic practices, albeit in different ways. This is not to say that oil production leads directly to corruption or repression, but rather corruption and repression may be facilitated by complex relationships that have developed with the evolution of the oil industry. Although this correlation may be due to economic pressures or a desire to repress populations and buy political support, Timothy Mitchell argues that this trend may also be related to the properties of oil, the means of production, cash flow, and the dependent relationship between oil producers and oil consumers.
In fact, the budget can be viewed as a medium through which state power and undemocratic practices are reinforced by oil. One need only refer to the recent pressures on Kurdistan by Baghdad to halt their unilateral oil deals with ExxonMobil and Chevron, condemning the deals as “illegal,” then allocating 250 thousand bpd to the KRG to control energy flow and curb potential conflict. This conflict revolves largely around the oil and gas law, or lack thereof, and drilling territory. Due to the fact that claims to the disputed territories are not resolved, and would have to be in order for there to be a comprehensive oil and gas law, Baghdad and the KRG have clashed over contracts, jurisdiction, production, and other issues. The hydrocarbons draft law has been in negotiations since 2007 and there does not seem to be a consensus in the near future. Additionally, Kurdistan refused to vote in favor of the proposed budget because the salary of the Peshmarga was not included, while other allocations for security in Iraq make up 14% of the budget.
These events illustrate how power and security are tightly bound to oil via the budget. In other words, oil is used to bolster internal security, while restricting and controlling resources and defense. When one examines the budget’s content this becomes more pronounced. ID19.86 trillion is marked for security and defense sectors, ID13.6 trillion is reserved for foreign oil companies' projects, and ID405.88 million alone is reserved for the Prime Minister’s office, compared to ID12.71 trillion for education and ID17.7 trillion for social services. (It should be noted that the funds allocated to the Prime Minister’s office are officially for social benefits, such as the Women’s Care Department, which are facilitated by his office.) These numbers indicate not only that power and security in Iraq flow through oil, but also that power lies with the Prime Minister and the government’s priorities revolve around security and defense.
The central government has tried to curb the autonomy not only of the KRG, but also of oil laborers through law, intelligence, and security measures. As a result, the government more effectively controls the means of oil production, which is also strengthened through the budget, and uses it as a tool against demands for workers rights. In February, 2011, Baghdad implemented crackdowns (not for the first time) on illegal strikes and unions at Kirkuk’s North Oil Company, as well as strikes in Basra during the past several years. Although workers still form unions despite their illegality, legislation has not yet changed and strikes continue to be suppressed. Furthermore, because of an abundance of human resources in the country, a relatively low level of specialization required for menial oil labor, and the government’s effective enforcement of power, strikes and unions are not as effective as they need to be. Thus, in Iraq’s case, oil production actually works to oppose democratic practices.
On the other hand, the stifling of pluralism and representation in Iraq also comes in the form of corruption, which is just as prominently linked to money, power, and oil. Baghdad and Moscow’s recently botched arms deal, allegedly due to corruption and bribery of the Iraqi officials who were negotiating, demonstrates the inability of the central government to fulfill its goals. Thus, corruption not only takes the form of repression on the street and in public spaces, but also in private among public officials. LUKOIL, Russia’s second largest crude producer, concurrently has plans to accept an offer from Exxon to take over West Qurna-1 oilfield (Reuters) and it is already in the process of developing West Qurna-2. So although there is a chance that Baghdad and Moscow may not benefit from a weapons deal and exchange tools of hard power, they are already cooperating in their production of soft power in southern Iraq.
Humanitarian and Social Programs
Although exorbitant spending on defense and energy is a common trait between oil producers and oil consumers, the way by which it affects humanitarian and social affairs regarding external funding, domestic programs, and civil society, is particularly stark in oil producing nations. High revenue, as a result of oil, make it easy and convenient to ignore or mask numerous inequalities in income and services. According to a previous NCCI op-ed, “In 2008, far fewer donors contributed about $473.6 million to humanitarian assistance in Iraq. In perspective, there was an 86% decrease in funding since the peak of funding in 2003.” Most recently, ECHO decreased funding from EUR 8 million (2012) to EUR 7 million (2013) for their humanitarian action plan (HIP) in Iraq, despite the fact that the country belongs to “category 3 (most severe) of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) crisis index and to category 2 of DG ECHO’s vulnerability index for 2012”(ECHO/WWD/BUD/2013/0100; emphasis added). The report cites Iraq’s economic growth and need to focus on capacity building, as opposed to rebuilding, for its reasons to decrease funding, yet the report strangely acknowledges that 23% of the population (7 million people) lives below the poverty line. With a clear reference to inequality and growth, the report does not address that the government actually does have the capacity to generate revenue or that corruption and repression are the problems regarding inequality. Instead of identifying the sources, destinations, and ways by which national profits are generated and contribute to the long-term problem, programs focus on short-term goals, which, while important, cannot function alone as a remedy.
Moreover, responsible domestic budgeting and administration is just as important as high revenue and funding. Hollowing out institutions in the name of security, intelligence, and reform does not foster valuable growth. In mid-November, the Iraqi Cabinet announced plans to eliminate food ration cards, which the government had been distributing since the 1990s when Iraq was struggling with international sanctions under Saddam Hussein’s regime. The decision to eliminate the rations was quickly reversed after public outcry, despite the sentiment that the system has been quite ineffective. According to The Iraqi Knowledge Network, for example, 80 percent of Iraqi families who had ration cards had only ever received one of the items on the ration card list between 2010 and 2011. This reveals the government’s inability to adequately deliver social services, as well as a portion of the public’s dependency (real or psychological) on services that seldom deliver. When supplemented with the ECHO report it becomes apparent that there is a discrepancy between international donations/donors, capacity building, and government services. A recent BBC report also noted a recent survey, estimating that between 800,000 to a million Iraqi children have lost one or both of their parents. However, Iraq's Deputy Minister for Social Affairs, Dara Yara, said that "We are working day and night to improve the services we provide to orphans. But the money I'm allocated for this is very limited. And the whole social security system in this country needs reform.” A recent UNICEF survey also highlighted further inequalities among children, noting that one in three (5.6 million) children in Iraq suffer from at least one of the following: inadequate access to and promotion of health services; lack of access to quality education; violence against children in schools and families; psychological trauma from years of extreme violence; discrimination; prolonged detention in juvenile facilities; insufficient attention to the special needs of children with disabilities and who are not in their family environment; and lack of access to information and participation in cultural life.
On the surface, Iraq’s budget provides only a few ways by which revenue, state power, and corruption are linked, but when reviewed more carefully in the context of Iraq’s politics and society, the relationship between money, power, oil, and humanitarian concerns are revealed. Each of these elements and institutions produces and reproduces power in different ways. Incidentally, yet on a macro scale, this also illuminates the irony of America’s policy of bringing democracy to Iraq, from which the U.S. received massive benefits as an oil consumer, while facilitating and influencing oil production. Despite projections of mass economic growth in Iraq’s future, this in no way guarantees structural or social change. If there is to be a more vibrant civil society, more effective social services programs, democratic capacity, and reform of structural inequality, workers and other disenfranchised groups must be allowed to voice their demands, international organizations must work with local groups to produce effective and necessary programs, and the means of oil production — including the depletion of fossil fuels — must be reassessed.
A year following the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq questions regarding the nation’s political, security, and human rights infrastructure have taken a front seat in public debate. To be sure, the burgeoning democracy has many challenges ahead, many of which are not necessarily a result of the withdrawal but rather the effects of America’s invasion and subsequent reconstruction policies. In politics, force and power take precedence over compromise and dialogue, while many governorates, particularly Ninawa and Kirkuk, face almost daily attacks, which the nation’s security forces attempt to contain. On the other hand, human rights is a primary concern of civil society organizations, non-governmental organization, and even government ministries, who each try to work together, yet often face conflict, when attempting to build capacity to relieve the nation’s humanitarian problems.
Iraq’s Security Condition
Prior to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the disputed territories of Ninewa, Kirkuk, Diyala, and Salah al-Din had been primarily under the control of the American military, though still relatively insecure. However, during the past year these regions have remained Iraq’s most dangerous territories, with almost daily car bombs and violent attacks, while the Southern governorates are now much safer. In fact, the promise of increased safety seems fleeting, as September 2012 marked the most dangerous month in Iraq in over two years, with 365 deaths reported.[i]
Mosul stands out as one of the most dangerous cities, experiencing near daily attacks, as well as violations by local security forces. The Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda’s Iraqi counterpart) still maintains strong influence in Ninawa and at one point, in 2011, deployed extortion, or a “jizya” tax, on the local government.[ii] Some even assert that any semblance of democracy in the governorate may only lead to more tribal influence.[iii] In mid-December of 2012, a series of deadly explosions and attacks occurred throughout Iraq, killing at least 29 people, 7 of whom were killed in Mosul.[iv]
Due partially to the lack and destruction of administrative, social, and security infrastructure by the U.S. military, as well as the lack of capacity building by reconstruction efforts, violence in many governorates remains a constant concern.
Violence, however, is not limited to non-government militias. Recently, Ninewa has taken center stage in an episode surrounding Iraq’s internal security violations against women. The rape of a 17 year old minor by an Army officer of the second division triggered outrage by government officials, particularly Iraqiyya List member Hamid al-Mutlaq, and citizens alike, resulting in the officer’s pending prosecution and sentencing.[v]
Iraq’s political space is also often occupied by force and coercion, as political opponents resort to methods that involve abuse of power, as opposed to mediation.
Earlier this year, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi was indicted on terrorism charges, incurring a death sentence from which he subsequently fled to Turkey. While many debate whether the charges are legitimate and based on truth, al-Hashimi and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hail from rival political parties, al-Iraqiyya block and al-Dawa respectively, resulting in speculation by some that al-Maliki used the judicial apparatus to exile (or effectively destroy) his political opponent.
Most recently, in an event that echoes the al-Hashimi episode, Minister of Finance, Rafei al-Essawi’s government offices were raided by militia forces, ending in the detention of the Minister’s guards and co-workers. And because al-Essawi also belongs to al-Iraqiyya block, many speculate on al-Maliki’s intentions as efforts to purge government ministries of his rivals.[vi]
This sparked protests across al-Anbar province, not completely aimed at the raids, but target to a large extent toward al-Maliki’s dubious use of power and force. According to Al Jazeera, Hikmat Iyada, provincial councilor for Anbar, told the protesters "We are gathered today not for Essawi and his bodyguards, but to change the course of this sectarian government and to overthrow Maliki's government…"
While many blame sectarian divisions as political obstacles, this ostensible political reality could be attributed to the invasion forces’ administrative policies of drawing political identities based on religion and ethnicity, while viewing political groups’ demands through a sectarian lens. By dealing with diverse interest groups in this way, and acting as a self-proclaimed “neutral” party by which direct negotiations between political groups do not take place, the U.S. administration set the stage for ethnic and religious tensions.
Humanitarian Issues in post-Withdrawal Iraq
Furthermore, Iraq’s larger humanitarian condition remains fragile. That being said, there have been some significant attempts at improving the situation both by the government and other organizations, though with recurring conflict on all sides. While the Iraqi Parliament and UNOPS got the wheels turning to draft the first policy on civil society, the civil society has been pretty much occupied advocating against a recent order issued by the Secretary General of Council of Ministers that “subjects NGOs to taxes and fees like companies.”
NGOs and civil society organizations face so many issues that taxes might be the least of them when human rights come to mind. On the Human Rights Day in December 2012, various Iraqi human rights entities, including ones established by the government, voiced their concerns about violations of human rights to which the Iraqis are subjected. In an interview with al-Aalam Newspaper on the 11th of December, Salama al-Khafaji member of the High Commission of Human Rights said “Iraqis are subject to huge violations and there is a need to make great efforts in order to create an environment where human rights can be applied.”
Human Rights in Iraq
While non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations have a relatively short history in Iraq, the history of human rights in the last ten years is quite deep. Violations, particularly the atrocious Abu-Ghraib episodes, by occupation forces in prisons and in public remain fresh in the Iraqi memory, while the arguably contradictory yet beneficial monetary contributions by the United States and other coalition forces had supported reconstruction a great deal. After the withdrawal, however, the drop in global humanitarian aid to Iraq has been cumbersome, as well as the state in which the nation was left: to essentially pull itself up by its bootstraps.
In a report published by the UK (the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Annual Human Rights Report for 2011), human rights in Iraq were described as improving. The report stated “Iraq continues to deal with the legacy of decades of appalling human rights violations under Saddam Hussein’s regime, as well as institutional deficiencies and the fallout of the 2003 Iraq War. The precarious security situation and political tensions within the Iraqi government have made progress and engagement on human rights difficult, and we have not yet reached the point where a culture that respects human rights is ingrained in Iraqi society.”
The UK report has appraised the advancement of Iraq, saying “Iraq faces many human rights challenges as it emerges from years of conflict, but it is important to recognize the progress that has been made by the Government of Iraq and Iraqi civil society. Indeed, since this report was written, we have seen the establishment of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights and the publication of the National Action Plan on human rights”.[vii]
Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights said on its website, regarding the reports, that “despite the challenges and difficulties facing Iraq,” it is “advancing much on human rights.”
The Ministry of Human Rights goes on to list some of the most controversial newly-issued laws on freedom of expression, including the Journalists Rights Law of 2011, as examples of the achievements made in the field of human rights, despite the gaps found in several of these law that make them according to observers a tool to restrict rather than enhance the freedom of expression.[viii]
One local NGO, told al-Aalam newspaper that the “situation of human rights in Iraq is unbalanced, as improvements are seen in one aspect only to have deterioration in another,” said Shaza Naji the head of Women for Peace Organization.
Who is Doing What?:
Ministry of Human Rights
The Ministry of Human Rights was established in 2003. Although its mandate covers all human rights abuses in Iraq, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rightshas to date primarily focused on recording the abuses of the Ba’athist Administration. The investigation of the crimes of the previous administration of the country is certainly necessary and commendable for any national Iraqi human rights body. However the investigation of the past should not occur in the place or at the expense of the investigation of human rights abuses occurring on the watch of the current government.
High Commission for Human Right
When formed in 2008, the High Commission for Human Rights was hailed as a “milestone” that will further support the existing efforts by the national Government’s human rights ministry, the judiciary, the Council of Representatives, law enforcement agencies and civil society groups, said Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq at the time.
Four years later, the HCHR is still inactive. According to Dr. Bushra Al-Obeidi member of the HCHR, the latter needs 19 million dollars to commence its activities. The requested money will be spent on logistics, hiring, etc.
The good news is that the HCHR will abstain from tackling old political-humanitarian cases, including the prisoners and missing persons files of the Iranian-Iraqi war or the Saddam invasion of Kuwait, leaving such files to the Ministry of Human Rights while focusing on current violations of human rights[ix].
Iraqi Federation of Human Rights Defenders Established
The establishment of the Iraqi Federation of Human Rights Defenders was officially announced in Erbil on July 16th, 2012, a precedent in Iraq as it represents the first union of its kind. Members of the Federation included academics, media personnel, workers of human rights organizations and activists defending human rights. The Federation aims to creating a society where freedom and the dignity of human beings are fully respected.
In September 2012, the Federation called on civil society organizations, NGOs, the Academia, journalists, and human rights activists to apply to join the Administrative Body of the Federation that will be selected in a general conference to be held before the end of 2012. So far, there is no news about the said conference.
Outlook and Conclusion
To be sure, a number of Iraq’s institutions remain unstable and fragile. Political corruption and the government’s lack of capacity to deliver basic security and services prolong other humanitarian problems, while NGOs and CSOs struggle to build a strong civil society and advocate against poor policy. However, there are still signs of national cohesion and public organization for which the government cannot take responsibility, showing signs of unity and a popular desire for change.
Recent protests in al-Anbar against Nouri al-Maliki’s policies and use of power as well as continuous dialogue between government offices and humanitarian organizations signify public agency that may move politics beyond violence and corruption and past that which was limited by occupation. Thus, if substantial change is to occur, it will not come from the government but from the Iraqi political public and civil society.