As of the start of October, it was reported by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that displaced individuals are residing in a total of 435 schools in Anbar governorate, not to mention the educational facilities that are occupied by armed militants. Around two thirds of the (1.6 million) population in Anbar are classified as being in need, which is the highest of any Iraqi province. Despite such catastrophic circumstances, an analytical report released in early October by NCCI/SNAP shows that Anbar has the lowest amount of funding per displaced person of any of the afflicted Iraqi provinces (3 USD per IDP). This is in vast contrast with the funding situation in the first quarter of 2014, when a Strategic Response Plan (SRP) was put together, specifically to address the needs of afflicted populations as a result of the militant takeover of Fallujah and Ramadi.
The most recent version of the same SRP, revised in September, focuses heavily upon displacement figures in the northern Kurdish region and fails to adequately address the situation in the remainder of Iraq. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is hosting large numbers of displaced individuals without any financial support from the central Iraqi government, but this could also be said for Anbar and other provinces that are majority-controlled by militants and subsequently have not received their usual cut of the centralised annual budget.
It is logical that the humanitarian focus is placed upon the accessible northern Kurdish regional provinces, since they host the largest percentage (43 percent) of the collective internally-displaced population in Iraq. However the prolonged reprioritisation of the humanitarian response in Anbar, and to some extent other provinces in central and southern Iraq, should have followed a detailed assessment and evaluation of comparative needs with displaced populations in other provinces. Any deprioritisation that has occurred reluctantly or even subconsciously due to challenges concerning constrained humanitarian access and poor security is potentially understandable but certainly disappointing. If true, questions must then be asked to why the humanitarian imperative was not dominant in any such planning and decision making.
There remains an urgent need for an ‘Immediate Response Plan’, inspired by that released by the UN and the KRG to address challenges specifically in the Kurdish region, but which addresses the rest of Iraq. This plan will need to respond to key questions raised in an NCCI Emergency Report in October, centred on how to speed up and scale up the nationwide humanitarian response. More specifically, such planning must lay out how aid agencies can overcome the challenges that have up until now prevented a comprehensive and coordinated aid response from being implemented in conflict zones. Displaced families from these areas inside Anbar are in desperate need of aid but every direction from which they seek to flee appears to be a dead end. The entire province is now almost completely closed off with no clear way of exiting for those fleeing violence. There are also question marks being continually raised about why there remains a critical lack of temporary accommodation in Anbar, with no immediate move towards the development of camps.
Recent events that have taken place in Heet, marked by a significant militant advance into large areas of the district, have resulted in the displacement of an estimated 34,000 people, according to the latest OCHA flash report. Previous reports had indicated significantly higher figures, with as many as 180,000 being displaced. This would constitute around 75 percent of Heet’s population, many of whom had already been displaced multiple times due to the dynamic nature of the conflict inside Anbar. Whatever the correct statistic, the resulting media reports emanating from this grief-stricken province will hopefully suffice in reactivating the collective subconscious and reminding people of the protracted suffering of some of Iraq’s most vulnerable populations that reside in Anbar and other areas far beyond the borders of the northern Kurdish provinces of the country.
For months, NGOs and UN agencies operating in different parts of Iraq have been calling upon the international community to refocus attention towards the overwhelming scale of the humanitarian needs that exist inside the country. The Anbar crisis has for more than six months posed an almost unmanageable burden upon the emergency response capacities of aid and relief agencies due to a critical lack in funding that has emanated from a clear down-grading of Iraq from the list of priorities on the international humanitarian agenda. This de-prioritisation must urgently be brought into question as the security crisis in the country has reached a breaking point which, if surpassed, will overwhelm the capability of aid agencies to respond given the burden of financial constraints. In a recent UN Security Council Press release, Member States were encouraged to support the Strategic Response Plan (SRP) that remains just 10 per cent funded, despite being launched over three months ago.
In the first week of June, longstanding concerns from humanitarian actors in Iraq about the potential for the Anbar crisis to expand to other strategic governorates have materialised as the cities of Mosul and Samarra, situated in the neighbouring governorates of Ninewa and Salaheddin respectively, have become the scenes of intense conflict. Armed opposition groups (AOGs) seized control of the entire Western part of Mosul and large areas of the Eastern part of the city. Reportedly, AOGs also took control over the city of Qayyarah, 140km South of Mosul, and the city of Muhallabuya, 70km to the West. They stormed prisons in the city and were able to free hundreds of inmates. In addition to a large influx of citizens from Mosul to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and Zommar city in North-West Mosul, there are growing concerns from cross-sections of communities in Salaheddin about their own safety and whether they should also flee before being caught up in the expanding conflict.
Accounts vary as to the exact number of casualties from Mosul but according to the local authorities more than 100 individuals have been killed so far in fighting. The UN has projected that the estimated 500,000 people displaced this year in conflict is likely to climb significantly over the coming weeks and months. Growing humanitarian needs will increase the pressure felt by aid agencies who are concerned about the sustainability of the under-funded collective response. Initial estimates from the International Office for Migration (IOM) are that there are already around 500,000 additional displaced individuals as a result of the recent outbreak of fighting in Mosul. One NCCI focal point who himself has fled the conflict in the city described the “mass displacement of citizens from Mosul from both East and West, I am currently on my way to Dohuk and have counted 50 cars in two minutes”. Another NCCI focal point cited thousands of IDPs being stuck at Erbil and Dohuk checkpoints waiting to be able to pass through. Mosques, schools and small surrounding villages on the way to Dohuk are reportedly overcrowded.
Hashim Al-Assaf, Executive Coordinator of the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) stated that “results of impending assessments in Ninewa and Salaheddin by aid agencies will reveal the extent of needs in the different response sectors but there are sizeable concerns about how already limited resources and stocks can be stretched to meet new needs on the ground”. NCCI field situation reports, released to support coordination efforts on the Anbar response, continue to show significant gaps in basic needs that include food, milk, water, shelter and blankets. Access to conflict areas of Mosul and Samarra also pose a significant concern for aid and relief agencies that are planning their response because movements in these areas are clearly restricted by ongoing fighting and road closures.
Services in the conflict areas are already beginning to suffer as there are prolonged power shortages across Mosul and water shortages that are predominantly affecting those situated in Western parts of the city. Markets and shopping areas are closing in insecure areas close to the fighting and there are reports that at least one ambulance was targeted by shelling. Schools and government offices are also predominantly shut. Curfews have been called in the Eastern half of Mosul city and fleeing IDPs have not been able to take with them much more than a few clothing items and some core essentials. As aid agencies await the results of official figures emanating from needs assessments, the efforts of humanitarian actors to highlight the impact of the devastating developments will continue. One question remains, which is: exactly how desperate does the situation need to become inside Iraq for the humanitarian crisis to receive the international attention that NGOs and the UN agencies have long been calling for?
Written by Benjamin Hargreaves, NCCI Communications Coordinator
On 18th March, a statement was released by a consortium of National Non-Governmental Organisations (NNGOs) who expressed their collective disappointment at the international community for not imparting greater attention to the worst humanitarian situation being faced by Iraq since 2006. The statement shed renewed light on the increasingly challenging situation for aid agencies, who are trying to attend to the urgent needs of the country's Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Indeed despite constrained resources and funding, NGOs and UN agencies continue to work hard to try and ensure the timely and efficient provision of humanitarian assistance for the displaced. Once being looked upon as a temporary downturn amid an already fragmented political and security scene in Iraq, contingency planners are now facing up to the increasing likelihood that this will evolve into a protracted crisis.
Based on official figures released by Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) on 26th March, it can be estimated that around 400,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict in Anbar. International NGOs that are playing a key role in the humanitarian response, such as the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), have this month called upon the international community to increase its humanitarian support and for parties in the conflict to ensure secure access for emergency relief staff working to meet the increasing needs of vulnerable populations. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has also urged “everyone involved in fighting to spare civilians and allow humanitarian and medical personnel to carry out their duties in safety”. Detailed field information collected by the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI), through its members and networks, has highlighted the trecherous and often impossible conditions that humanitarian workers are faced with then trying to gain access to some of the most vulnerable populations. As a result, IDPs in many cases remain in desperate need of some of the most basic relief items such as water (for drinking and cleaning), food supplies, bedding, clothing and shelter.
Given the sizeable security and financial constraints on the humanitarian effort of aid agencies, it is surprising that more international attention has not been directed towards the unmet needs of those affected by the current situation in Iraq. NGOs have been working with limited resources to attend to the growing needs of IDPs, who have been forced to leave their homes because of the ongoing threat to their safety and security. Perhaps the lack of media attention towards this issue is a reflection of the regional situation, whereby the Syrian refugee crisis remains the focus for relief and donor organisations. However with assessments shifting towards the fact that this is now a protracted humanitarian crisis, NGOs are hoping that this will mean stronger donor support for their activities. Without such a shift, it is now evident that the vital work being carried out on the ground by humanitarian actors will not be able to be sustained in the long-term.
Several NNGOs this month detailed to NCCI their progressive reliance on donations from wealthy local businessmen and the help of community volunteers in order to bridge the gaps now appearing in their resources, so that they can continue distributing food and other basic items. NNGOs operating in Anbar are struggling even more than in other areas of Iraq, since the solutions and procedures deployed were initially developed with the hope that IDPs would be in a position to return to their homes and cities within days or weeks of the initial onset of the crisis in December. There was also an expectation that if it did materialize into a long-term situation then their efforts would quickly be supported from various directions, both locally and internationally. One area of particular concern for these local organisations has been the apparent shortage in planning and subsequent provision of shelter and accommodation, which they believe has not reflected the true scope or needs of responding to the crisis. Perhaps policies pertaining to this issue really have been more politically-driven than humanitarian-focused. Indeed the argument that the crisis is temporary and that IDPs will soon return home seems now quite idealistic. Or perhaps this is a greater reflection upon the continuing requirement for enhanced capacity building with relevant actors in Iraq in relation to emergency preparedness.
There are an increasing number of reports being received by NCCI through emergency coordination meetings and its field network that highlight the deterioration of social structure inside Anbar. Begging and problems relating to homelessness are on the rise, especially among the most vulnerable people such as women, children and the elderly. Unemployment rates have also increased because many IDPs have been forced to leave their jobs behind or cannot regularly access their place of work. New areas resided in by the IDPs are often unable to provide similar opportunities in the face of a rising population. Children are missing out on education because schools have closed and paperwork has been lost of unavailable for submission at their new location. Common theft and burglaries have also increased significantly and according to the joint NNGO statement released in March “criminal acts are driven by psychological factors arising out of the feeling of wanting to take revenge on society, which is considered as a source of responsibility for the conflict”. Militants in control of Fallujah have begun taking policing into their own hands by implementing Sharia law and offering some limited social services, hoping to further their moral support.
With an estimation of more than 90,000 individuals now displaced outside Anbar province and violence spiking in other governorates including Diyala, Baghdad and Salaheddin, perhaps the days of calling this an ‘Anbar’ crisis are numbered. Whilst clearly a depressing thought, it is essential for the international community and media to recognize the expanding and protracted nature of the current situation so that the needs of beneficiaries on the ground can be effectively planned for and met by the humanitarian community. This pessimistic but representative outlook of the current humanitarian situation has been added to recently by the first cases of polio being discovered in Iraq for 14 years. Responding to this situation will once again be made more challenging by limited access in Anbar province (bordering on Syria) and by the continuing displacement of large sections of the population.
Published by NCCI Communications Team, Amman
Iraq now has the second highest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Middle East, after Syria, with a total of more than 1.1 million registered IDPs. Most have escaped due to conflict, political strife and forced evictions on sectarian or ethnic grounds.
More than two months of military operations inside Anbar have resulted in thousands of additional Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) that have been forced to leave their homes in search of peace and security. Violence inside the province has even resulted in multi-displacement as many families that had made the difficult decision to leave home, were subsequently confronted by new outbreaks of fighting between militants and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and were forced to once again relocate in search of sanctuary in another area of Anbar. According to NCCI field reports, the scarcity of food supplies and fuel has also been a key factor in leading families to seek better living conditions.
Recent statistics released by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) show that there are now more than 68,333 internally displaced families as a result of the ongoing conflict in Anbar province. The majority of these families (48,243) are displaced inside Anbar and the remaining families (20,068) are now located in other governorates, including large numbers in Salaheddin (8,745), Kirkuk (1,304), Baghdad (3,627) and the Iraqi Kurdistan region (5,331). The estimation that more the 70 per cent of IDPs are still located inside Anbar increases the importance on coordination and information sharing between International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and the local communities, including local authorities and National Non-Governmental Organisations (NNGOs). This is absolutely necessary in order to assess and prioritise IDP needs and to provide a collaborative, joined-up humanitarian response inside Anbar province.
It is still too early to judge the effectiveness of the challenging aid effort to address the growing needs of more than 400,000 IDPs, who are displaced across a total of 11 different governorates. However when specifically addressing the humanitarian response inside Anbar, it has become apparent that the local communities and organisations are playing an incredibly important role in meeting the needs of locally displaced people. NNGOs are working under increasingly treacherous circumstances in order to carry out assessments and meet the desperate needs of IDPs.
Indeed NNGOs and communities are dealing with huge needs on the ground and are working with an ongoing shortage in funds and overstretched resources. What increases the challenge even more is that the local humanitarian community is now having to contingency plan for a long term, expanding IDP crisis. For them it is incredibly important to take special care of health and education, even prioritizing it over support for shelters, food and non-food items. There have been growing reports from NCCI focal points that displaced children are often being turned away from schools due to incomplete schooling documentation and paperwork, which is something that will have a devastating long-term impact on the future generation of this vulnerable sub-section of Iraqi youth. There are also increased warnings about potential widespread outbreaks of serious illnesses among local IDP populations.
NNGOs possess a number of important benefits for INGOs when dealing with the inside-Anbar response, which need to be exploited more effectively by humanitarian actors. Despite often having to work with contradicting, unconfirmed information from the field and difficult, unsecure access routes, INGOs have a fantastic opportunity to be able to tap into the rich pool of local knowledge and insight of NNGOs to understand the precise needs of the affected IDP population. Most NNGOs have almost exclusively local employees that are able to appreciate important cultural and political factors without facing language or trust barriers to information collection and field research.
Whatever could be said about national and local NGO capacities in Anbar, there have been substantial efforts made by the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) and other important humanitarian actors in developing their capabilities in order to support local communities and respond to developing humanitarian emergencies. The time seems right for the international humanitarian community to build closer partnerships with these NNGOs to help to leverage their capabilities still further. Stronger local partnerships with NGOs that embrace the core humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and do-no-harm will help to better assess and meet the collective needs of IDPs in Anbar, and to overcome the ongoing difficulties of sporadic access route changes and a dynamic battleground.
However there are still significant obstacles to reliable partnerships, which are borne out of the fact that the nature of Iraqi civil society substantially differs from the Western-inspired model that is defined by independence from traditional social structures and the state. Iraqi civil society on the other hand relies on the values of solidarity, contacts and social cohesion, rooted in religious and tribal ethics. Full embracement of core international humanitarian principles and actual on-the-ground capacities are still points of concern for humanitarian actors that are seeking local partnerships.
From an NNGO perspective, there are substantial benefits to be gained from the enhanced resources and procedures that would be provided by the establishment of stronger partnerships with INGOs that would increase the effectiveness of their aid effort. A protected space for NGO coordination, being provided by NCCI, will also help to ensure that the activities of NNGOs are not overlapping but are instead based upon detailed, evidence-based needs assessments from reliable and trusted sources of information in the field. Priorities of people inside Anbar are constantly changing and must be kept up with via continuous detailed assessments. Trends analyses suggest that the crisis is now becoming long-term and is expanding. The sooner such partnerships can be strengthened, the faster the collective humanitarian effort can be adapted to meet this increasing IDP challenge.
Published by NCCI Communications Team, Amman
The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq continues to pose a significant humanitarian challenge for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Iraqi authorities. An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis were displaced as a result of the 2006-2008 widespread sectarian violence and there have been consistent warning signs over the past year that the country is on the verge of returning to some of its darkest days of internal conflict. With such conflict come new waves of IDPs that join the existing victims of sectarian violence to form one of the most vulnerable populations of people inside Iraq. Between April and December 2013 more than 1000 families were displaced, mainly in Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Basra, due to increased security threats. The fear of violence and a deteriorating security situation also sadly prevent existing IDPs from returning home. In 2013 the UN estimated the number of IDPs in Iraq to be approximately 1.13 million.
Prior to the worrying destabilization of Anbar province this month, the United Nations (UN) had already expressed clear concerns that Iraq was facing a new crisis regarding an increasing number of IDPs and deteriorating living conditions for this vulnerable section of Iraqi society. Since the outbreak of sporadic conflict in and around Fallujah and Ramadi and the emergence of impending large-scale Iraqi security force offensives in these cities, thousands of families have made the difficult decision to abandon their homes in fear of their own safety. NGOs, UN agencies and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) have released estimates that vary greatly but indicate that a total of more than 100,000 people (22,000 families) have been displaced from and within Anbar since the start of the violence. The vast majority of displacement has been from families living in Fallujah.
The situation in Fallujah and Ramadi is developing rapidly and field situation reports published by the NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) have confirmed that the main reason for families leaving their homes has been the deteriorating security situation. For a few weeks families were facing difficulties in obtaining food and fuel but most decided not to leave. However as the threat of violence and head-on conflict have increased the difficult decision to leave has been taken out of their hands. The associated strain on local hospitals also appears to have been intensifying as the frequency of casualties requiring urgent medical treatment continues to provide a significant burden upon available resources. More than 71 civilians have been killed and 319 injured as a result of the conflict in Anbar, according to UN statistics.
NCCI field situation reports have shown that displaced families have been seeking refuge in local schools, old housing and storage places that are strongly unsuitable for residence over a sustained period of time. These families have been in great need of items such as blankets, mattresses, cooking appliances and food items. The availability and pricing of food items and fuel have been significantly affected by the ongoing violence. Rental of local housing has also escalated to about four times the original cost in some locations, which has greatly hindered displaced families looking to somewhere to lodge. Other displaced families have been luckier in that they have been hosted by family relatives.
The humanitarian response up until now for displaced families in Anbar has faced significant constraints that have arisen due to the complexity of the conflict. Checkpoints have been closed by security forces for long periods and other roads and accesses have fallen under the control of militants. Fields workers for local community groups, religious groups and NGOs such as the Iraqi Red Crescent have been bravely operating under treacherous conditions in order to distribute relief supplies, which up until now have been received from very limited resources. The conflict is dynamic and has been evolving at a pace that is difficult to keep up with when planning comprehensive relief efforts. Access routes that are open one day may quickly become blocked as the violence becomes scattered in an increasingly desperate battle for territorial control. Limited access to areas has also been a sizeable obstacle to carrying out detailed needs assessments for the IDPs in Anbar.
Whilst the majority of displaced families still remain in Anbar, a large number have also been displaced to other regions in Iraq. This presents a wider challenge for the humanitarian response effort. According to NCCI’s field network there are around 15,000 IDPs in Iraqi Kurdistan (Erbil, Sulaymaniya and Dohuk) that have been displaced from Fallujah and Ramadi, in addition to the significant number of IDPs that are now located in the Iraqi regions of Salah-al-Din, Kerbala, Najaf, and Baghdad. Displaced families in Iraqi Kurdistan may feel relieved that they have found their way to this relative safe haven but will quickly find themselves staring in the face of new challenges. Families are beginning to complain about high prices for the rental housing and the difficulty of obtaining residency, which is now being renewed on a weekly basis at the discretion of local security forces. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is currently working alongside aid agencies to set up a temporary camp for the IDPs arriving from Anbar.
It appears that in the current whirlwind of political and security instability we should expect more and more families to be forced to make difficult choices about whether to leave home and search for relative peace and stability in a different region of Iraq. Providing assistance for the displaced remains one of the lasting challenges for the humanitarian community working in Iraq. NGOs and UN agencies intensify their activities under difficult constraints in Anbar province with no end in sight to the violence. Only when stability improves and access enables aid agencies to carry out more detailed assessments will the extent of the humanitarian crisis emanating from Anbar truly be realized. If this stability is maintained then families will be able to return to their homes and schools can reopen. Any growing pressure on health services in areas hosting a large number of IDPs will also be somewhat relieved. However the Director of Health in Anbar has been working hard to quickly fill any gaps that appear due to an increased population in any area hosting IDPs. In terms of infrastructure damage as a result of the ongoing conflict, significant reparation costs are being projected and houses belonging to local families have been in some cases seriously damaged.
Written by Benjamin Hargreaves, NCCI Communications Team, Jordan
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.
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.
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 early history to give readers an insight into early challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005)
NCCI: At the onset of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there were a few NGO coordination organizations, which included OCHA, Joint NGO Preparedness Initiative (JNEPI), and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA). After the war, the civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) also began organizing humanitarian initiatives. What inspired the need for an NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq?
Board Member: After the invasion it was impossible for humanitarian actors to work under the CIMIC or US troops’ coordination since it would imply disregarding the ICRC code of conduct (impartiality, neutrality, autonomy). US led troops were, until a legitimate Iraqi government was elected, an occupation force, and working with them would de facto mean to be on their side. This became a serious problem when security conditions started to deteriorate (attacks against UN offices, attack against ICRC, kidnappings, etc.). NCCI was extremely needed in that context to defend the humanitarian space from the different parties in the conflict and also to coordinate activities since the UN could not set up a cluster system in Iraq.
NCCI: Was there a specific prior organization or plan on which NCCI was modeled?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): Not really, some NGOs experimented with a coordination body in Rwanda in the 90’s and in Afghanistan in 2001/2. NCCI was not based on a specific model and instead designed based on the needs of NGOs at that time. NCCI evolved a lot in 10 years to adapt itself to the context and the needs of NGOs.
NCCI: What was the vision of the relationship that NCCI would maintain with its members, non-member INGOs, and non-member NNGOs?
Board Member: Since the beginning, NCCI was an inclusive process trying to expand its membership as much as possible. There was a specific attempt, since the beginning, to avoid a western or European led initiative and involving Iraqi and international NGOs. In the first years, INGOs were leading the process, as more NNGOs became involved and became an active part of the process.
NCCI: What were some key challenges that the formation of NCCI faced in its earliest stages and how were these overcome?
Board Member: Security was a serious challenge in the beginning. This meant not only the need for security officers who were constantly advising members about threats and challenges, but also an objective difficulty in identifying appropriate and professional staff who were accepting to live in Baghdad. Funding, on the contrary, was not a challenge since a lot of international donors, and among them ECHO has been for a long time the main sponsor, were acknowledging the importance and role of NCCI.
NCCI: In 2003, while other coordination organizations, such as JNEPI, were losing capacity, NCCI was growing in both size and efficacy. What were some of the reasons for NCCI’s early success and how was this accomplished?
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005): ECHO’s generous financial support to NCCI was one of the biggest reasons behind the success of NCCI. The departure of the UN after the bombing of its [headquarters] in the Canal Hotel, and NCCI subsequently taking the lead for coordinating NGOs, UN agencies, and in some cases for government entities where there was no government, is another reason for its success. At that time they initiated [working groups] for IDPs, Health, Education, WASH, etc… Additionally, NCCI was the main source for information and field coordination for the HC of the UN based in Amman.
Being neutral all the time, not being part of military operations, and not being escorted by military vehicles were other reasons for NCCI’s success. Its regular coordination meetings for all stakeholders working in humanitarian activities, the officially shared minutes of all meetings, and general information sharing when there is no other neutral channel available on the ground is yet another reason. Additional reasons include creating WWW maps and sharing them with all members; the establishment of NCCI offices in four areas inside and outside Iraq: Baghdad, Erbil, Kuwait, Amman, and also field staff in the Basra office.
For all the above, NCCI was respected by all, including beneficiaries and communities, which helped NCCI extend its reach into all places in Iraq, while encouraging others to listen to NCCI and to utilize its services.
NCCI: What benefits was NCCI able to deliver that other organizations were not? And what was the difference between these benefits and services toward NNGOs and INGOs?
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005): After the US-led invasion of Iraq, there were very few NNGOs (National NGOs). As in Iraqi culture before the war, we did not have actual NGOs with visions, as there are in other countries. I will not go into details as I’m sure you understand what I mean by that. NGOs were a new concept to Iraqis at that time. After the war, the civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) began organizing humanitarian initiatives and this was catastrophic for creating NNGOs since anyone could come and register as an NGO and attend this meeting and would be considered an NGO, and would have been given an amount of money up to $5000 to do a project after attending a few meetings. This lead to the creation of hundreds of “suit case” NGOs, and destroyed the image and vision of real NNGOs, leading to a lack of trust in their work.
For INGOs, especially those who wanted to be viewed as impartial and neutral and not linked to armed forces, or those who were not ready to be linked with occupation authorities since it would affect their status and image in front of beneficiaries, they were looking to independent bodies for coordination, especially after the Canal Hotel bombing (UN HQ) and the absence of a government.
At the early stages, NCCI was a great benefit to INGOs (more than NNGOs for the above reasons), especially the European ones. The emerging NNGOs at that time were looking for funds, which were available mainly from the Americans, as the UN and others did not fund many new NNGOs with the instability on the ground, so funds were given to INGOs. At that time it was discussed to use a mentor approach with national staff at INGOs and help them create NNGOs. Not all INGOs were ready to do so, but the few NGOs who participated in this process were able to continue in Iraq after the departure of most INGOs and the UN in Iraq.
NCCI sometimes played an important role for coordination not only for INGOs but also for the UN and the CPA in Iraq. Also, during the Najaf and Falluja crises, the humanitarian space that was opened with the help of NCCI helped to provide aid for casualties and for these cities.