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 future and impact to give readers an insight into how NCCI can better serve its network in the coming years and its wider impact on Iraq’s humanitarian space. The following includes interviews with:
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012)
1) As NNGOs gain capacity and improve efficacy, how can NCCI remain a relevant actor?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: NCCI’s relevance lies in its coordination role. A coordination forum/mechanism is relevant independent of the capacity of the NNGOs. One could even argue that the stronger and more efficient the NNGOs are, the more important it is that they operate in a coordinated and complementary manner in order to ensure effectiveness and avoid contradicting objectives and priorities.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I think greater NGO capacity will only increase the need and role for NCCI. Countries with highly developed civil society organizations have umbrella groups similar to NCCI. NCCI is well on track to become this “must have” umbrella group in Iraq. There will always be NGO interests and concerns that can be most effectively presented to government jointly through an organization like NCCI.
DRC-Country Director: Continuation of support (provide direction, training, advocate access to funding, advocate placement/necessity in the country). NCCI could also be a leading organization on information sharing and organization of intervention as to avoid duplication in services provided or any other civil society efforts.
2) As this shift occurs, what are some ways by which international organizations can continue to support NCCI’s mission?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Having acknowledged the important short and long-term role of NNGOs, International organizations must also acknowledge the importance of effective coordination and partnership between the NNGOs. With these acknowledgements in the mind, international organizations should:
1. Work, liaise and coordinate with NCCI in a supportive and transparent manner.
2. Ensure that NCCI as a coordinating representative body for NNGOs maintains the capacity to fulfill its function as an independent, transparent, representative and accountable entity
3. In their efforts to build the capacity of civil society, international organizations should also increase awareness about the importance of coordination and collaboration and the value of NCCI as a mechanism for systematic coordination and cooperation. Only when the members of NCCI understand and accept the function of NCCI will they be able to maximize its usefulness and help it remain a credible representative body.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: In the middle term I think international organizations will continue to play the same role within NCCI and will continue to have the same needs for NCCI’s coordination and support. In the longer term local NGO’s may have a greater need to act collectively through NCCI, but I don’t think the needs of international NGO’s will diminish for quite some time.
3) What are ways by which NCCI can continue to facilitate good relations between NGOs and the Iraqi government?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Lack of trust has been raised as a major barrier to an open and functioning relationship between NGOs and the government. NGOs should seek to better demonstrate the value of their work and the principles, rules and procedures by which they operate. Over time, consistency in the application of principles, rules and procedures will strengthen the credibility of the NGOs and with that the governments respect. NCCI as the representative entity should in particular take measures to interact with the government at different levels in a consistent and transparent manner. This includes measures to build common understandings and trust but also denunciation should the government take illegitimate restrictive measures towards NGOs. It is also important to move away from an individual-centric approach to an institutional approach to relationship building to ensure that the government understands and respects NGOs as institutions rather than individuals. NCCI should also continue to function as a source of reliable information to NGOs to enable its members a better informed dealing with the government. This would reduce NGO vulnerabilities that are often related to the lack of knowledge and information about, for example, governmental administrative procedures and regulations.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I think NCCI has done this well already and has positioned itself well to continue to play and reinforce this role in the future. While registration and visa issues may resolve in the middle-term future, there will be new issues of government policy toward NGO’s that NCCI will be in the best position to take up.
4) And ways by which NCCI can encourage government sponsorship of Iraqi civil society?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: When the government, at central or local level, begins to appreciate the value of Iraqi civil society as partners in supporting development in the country and responding to the urgent needs of the population, it might begin sponsoring and funding the work of civil society. I do not know if this already exists, but NCCI could also promote the development of a policy of even law that obliges the government to allocate a certain amount of money to the strengthening of civil society. Local examples could also be a good way to illustrate how civil society - government partnership could work. NCCI should therefore keep track of such cases and disseminate the information to show the practical result of civil society – government partnerships.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I’m not sure exactly how NCCI can go about this, but it is certainly important to continue to build NCCI membership and develop good relations with the executive and legislative branches of government to be in a position to encourage government sponsorship effectively.
5) What are potential problems for humanitarian coordination in Iraq’s future?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: The ethnic, political and sectarian polarizations that are becoming increasingly rooted in the society also penetrate the civil society. Cooperation and coordination would suffer.
Corruption and inefficient administration becomes the “normal” way of working in Iraq and that penetrates also the civil society whereby the various humanitarian actors fail to adhere to established standards, build credibility and mutual respect.
Without adequate funding, civil society becomes weaker both in terms of capacity and diversity. Competition for funding drives humanitarian actors away from transparency and cooperation. More (financial) powerful actors, such as international, dominate the dialogue, thereby limiting the scope of interaction and contribution from other actors.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I’m not sure what problems may emerge, but it seems important to me for NCCI to work on building its membership, good cooperation among its members, and good relations with all levels and branches of government to be in a position to promote humanitarian coordination and solve problems.
6) How do NCCI’s members hope to benefit from NCCI in the coming years?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Have access to information and knowledge; Have regular access and interaction with other national and international organizations; Receive support and advise in their relations with the government; Speak with one, stronger, voice around important matters.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: We at MCC hope to benefit, as we have in the past, from NCCI’s power to convene international and local NGO’s to facilitate networking and information sharing and from NCCI’s ability to facilitate the relationship between NGO’s and government.
NCCI’s Wider Effect
1) What are some ways by NCCI can serve as a model for local organizations in other emergency contexts that may lack a coordination organization’s presence?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): The inclusion of local NGOs in NCCI's membership and governing body is a very good example for other coordination networks. By simply bringing local organizations to the same security and coordination meetings, a more realistic understanding of local contexts is automatically transferred to the international organizations. Local NGO can also learn best practice models from INGOs and vice versa in some cases.
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): As a relatively successful experience in a given context, it would be a mistake to want to reproduce the same thing elsewhere.
2) How has NCCI affected current coordination initiatives in other emergency contexts throughout the world?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): Some small initiatives began in 2012 for an NGO coordination Committee in Jordan in order to address the needs in Syria. NCCI shared coordination mechanisms including surveys on how to gather info from other agencies in order to rapidly generate a broad understanding of NGO locations and work.
3) What is the greatest impact that NCCI has had on coordinating civil society in Iraq?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): NCCI is now in a position to act as a gateway between international agencies and Iraqi NGOs and other civil society representatives and organizations. This is very significant in so far as it has reopened the space between local and international actors in an effort to repair the trust that was lost between the two.
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): I do not think we coordinated civil society in Iraq but that we were part of the coordination regarding humanitarian and development NGOs. In addition, the impact could only be monitored by a proper evaluation, not from my thoughts. But I would say that amongst those NGOs who participated in coordination with NCCI, main feedbacks were that we relatively succeeded to keep genuine humanitarian principles on top of the agenda, make outsiders (and sometimes insiders) know that NGOs were still operating in Iraq despite their low profile, participated to bring back in some big NGOs by highlighting the on-going (and longtime hidden) humanitarian crisis or improving capacity of NGOs workers through trainings. But this was only from 2005 to 2008. Before, NCCI also enabled humanitarian coordination to remain present despite the departure of the UN. After 2008, I do not know.
Based on the paper “National Funds to Support Civil Society Organizations” published by The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) in July 2010, partnership between the Government and civil society organizations is the key to achieve common goals for the betterment of their country. Governmental Funds or Foundations in several countries are looked at not only as a source of money from the government but as institutions with which civil society organizations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can partner as the latter are consulted upon the establishment of the former.
In Iraq however, this partnership requires strengthening. Neither NGOs nor civil society organizations were mentioned in the Federal General Budget Law of 2012, recently endorsed by the Iraqi Government, although some are currently receiving financial support from the government, for example via the Ministry of Education. The Budget, amounting to 100 Billion USD, included an upgrade to social benefits including granting loans to Iraqis for purposes of housing and to farmers to activate the agricultural sector. But there was no mentioning of specific financial support to CSOs or NGOS.
Decrease in International Funding
The peak of donor funding for humanitarian assistance in Iraq reached $3.4 billion in 2003. By contrast only 9% of that yearly funding (316 million dollars) was allotted for 2008 signaling an overall drop in funding for humanitarian efforts in Iraq. Moreover every year since then the same pattern of steady funding drops has continued across funding fields in Iraq (with yearly funding at 3% of the 2003 high in 2011) except for funding for ‘Civil Society’ work for which some large-scale grants have been set aside by donors such as the European Union for the coming year.
Furthermore there are concerns about the commitment of the members of the former Multi-National Forces in Iraq (MNF-I) to continue their humanitarian funding following the completion of the withdrawal of all foreign forces which occurred at the end of 2011. The United States has put forward a funding opportunity via a USAID grant amounting to up to $75 million for Civil Society projects over a period of three years starting in 2012. However it reserves the right to fund any or none of the application submitted, therefore the precise amount of funding to be distributed is as yet not fully defined.
Iraq remains a violent and unstable operating context. This reduces access on the ground. Millions (an estimated 1.5 million since 2003 - UNHCR Iraq Operation Monthly Statistical Update on Return: November 2011) of Iraqis are still displaced, and humanitarian issues related to health, education, sanitation and security remain throughout Iraq.
While Iraq retains the status as having the 3rd largest reserves of Oil in the Middle East, oil exploitation is currently stunted by insecurity, corruption, a lack of investment, poor technology, and a number of other factors. Meanwhile, an estimated 7 million Iraqis (out of a total population of 30 million) live on less than $2 USD a day.
The Law of NGOs in Iraq – Funding Methods
According to the NGOs Law No. 12 of 2010, Article (13): NGOs' resources consist of: first, members' fees and dues; second, internal or external donations, grants, bequests and gifts; and third, the revenues from their activities and projects. This remains the case despite a growing debate around the issue with many NGOs calling on the government to allocate funds to support and sustain civil society organizations in Iraq.
In the KRG, up until a short while ago, the situation was different where under The Law of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region of 2011, Article 13 Section 4 states the Organization may obtain income from “The Organization's share of any allocation in the Region’s annual budget, and any other grants or assistance provided by the Government in support of the Organizations’ projects.” But mid-2011 this aid ceased. A new law is currently underway with an expected limitation of funding only to NGOs that can present credible project proposals to the KRG Government.
In Basra a draft local legislation was recently set to allocate small loans to mitigate the unemployment issue. Currently NCCI and a number of local NGOs in Basra are lobbying to ensure that national NGOs have access to such loans, despite the calls from a number of NGOs to stress the notion that “NGOs are in need of grants not loans”. The lobbying in Basra has started; more will be stated at a later stage about the results.
The ICNL Paper states that “the key reason to provide institutional support is to invest in the development of CSOs that can become effective partners to the government in implementing its policies… Providing project-based support has advantages as well. Project based support can yield specific results in areas in which the government wants to achieve impact, at the same time strengthening CSO experience and ability to deliver services in that area.”
Most of the debate about governmental grants to NGOs in Iraq centers on how humanitarian needs and developmental priorities can be served without imposing any control on the space of NGOs’ work.
Role of the Private Sector
On March 13th 2012, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Shell Iraq signed an agreement to implement a range of development projects in Southern Iraq. The four year partnership aims to increase the number of local area development activities, promote local small and medium enterprises and provide vocational training to respond to the private sector needs.
This partnership is part of UNDP support for the local network of the Global Compact, which was launched in Iraq in October last year to promote responsible business practices in the areas of human rights, labor standards, environment and anti-corruption. The Global Compact, and these types of partnerships, also provide a useful framework for international oil companies who are operating in Iraq to meet their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations.
During an NCCI Open Space Meeting in Erbil, held on Feb 2012, some of the local NGOs called for lobbying to include articles within the Iraqi investment laws by which investors need to allocate certain funds to assist LNGOs.
Examples from other countries show a certain level of success upon applying such methods. In Vietnam, many Vietnamese, particularly those from the center of the country, gauge their success based on the prosperity of the community in which they reside. One way in which Canadian firms have helped enrich the community around them and improve their reputation has been by meeting with local non-governmental leaders and seeking to understand what the people of the community need, what their personal ambitions are, and what they want for their descendants. With this information, Canadian firms have been able to ensure that their company’s project contributes to the ambitions of the local community.
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.