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.