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
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.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s present to give readers an insight into challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq
Program Manager - Nature Iraq
1) How did NCCI support and prepare its members for the withdrawal of U.S. troops?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: …I know that [the current Executive Coordinator] assisted me when I was with MCC with the design and dissemination of a questionnaire to local NGOs on their needs upon the withdrawal of the US troops. And he traveled to Washington DC to talk to US legislators about NGO needs. I have not yet seen the final documents from that effort.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): The general perception among NGOs community was no huge change in the security and political situation happen and result a huge change in the humanitarian situation in term of improvement or deterioration that need special response. However, the security situation was affected by the withdraw and NCCI the security coordination was strengthened by the creation of the security working group.
2) How was coordination, advocacy, and information sharing affected by the withdrawal?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: These may have become a little more challenging as the security situation has deteriorated since withdrawal, however, not substantially.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): As the security situation was became more tense after the withdrawal, coordination (including info sharing) and advocacy was more difficult than before. Access to the international zone (also known as the green zone) became more difficult after the withdrawal and UN coordination was based inside the IZ. More efforts were needed to maintain coordination mechanisms.
3) What is the biggest challenge facing NCCI’s network today and how can it be overcome?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: Capacity building for smaller NGOs in terms of administration, paperwork, grant writing and program management is a big need. The money is harder to come by now that the US and other governments have reduced funding to Iraq. It seems time that NGOs could work together more effectively.
Also, at a recent membership meeting, I felt that folks were attending for their own benefit, rather than for the good of a network body. This could also be addressed with capacity building.
[Additionally], in the KRG we need the NGO registration forms in English and some help completing them. I believe they are not available yet. I would also like to be better linked to the NGO coordinating body in the KRG government. I intend to ask [the NCCI Erbil office] to assist Heartland with that.
I wonder if NGOs in the KRG region should have a more sustainable coordination mechanism with local NCCI field officers. Like monthly meetings on various topics in each governorate.
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: Broadening NGO involvement in the network and advocating for NGOs rights with the Iraqi government.
4) How does Iraq’s coordination setting differ in the KRG and the centrally controlled governorates? And how does NCCI’s strategy differ in the two regions?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: Coordination is somewhat easier in KRG because movement is easier. However, there is some challenge because INGO offices are split between [Sulymaniyah] and [Erbil].
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: …Things seem to be simply easier to do/accomplish in the KRG
5) NCCI’s Executive Coordinator recently relocated from Amman to Baghdad. What are the advantages and disadvantages (if any) to NCCI’s members and Iraqi NNGOs as a whole?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: Even better, the Exec Coordinator is an Iraqi. Unfortunately, the work load to cover the entire country for this one person is immense whether in Amman or Baghdad. Is there some way that those duties could be spread across more staff - Empowering them to do more[?] It might be beneficial to have a KRG Director?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: The advantages are that is it much easier to access the EC and the EC has greater access to partner NGOs.
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: If you are asking about the advantages and disadvantages to this move, I think it is better for NNGOs but may make things somewhat more difficult for coordinating with international organizations and agencies that work out of Amman and not Baghdad.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): I believe re-locating the EC to Baghdad is an important step towards strengthening the field coordination since the majority of humanitarian actors were re-located to Iraq. However, re-locating the NCCI EC to Baghdad should be combined with strengthening NCCI’s presence in the northern and southern parts of the country, as not all the major actors are based in Baghdad, as was the case with Amman.
6) What has been the general response of the Iraqi public (excluding NGOs) to NCCI’s presence?
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: I can only talk from the perspective of the KRG and I don't think that the general public is very much aware of NCCI (but I'm not a Kurdish speaker and can't be sure of this). But is that a stated goal of NCCI? Its clients are NGOs, not specifically the Iraqi public. I do think that NCCI is helping NNGOs to become more professional so that these groups will interact with the Iraqi public in a professional and positive way.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s more recent history to give readers an insight into challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former Field Coordinator (2008-2011)
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012)
Former Information and Communications Coordinator (2005-2008)
Executive Coordinator (2012-present)
NCCI: In 2005, NCCI experienced a kind of reorganization, closing its Kuwait office, relocating its Baghdad support staff office to Amman, and rewriting its charter.
a) What was the reason for this major reorganization?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): There were multiple reasons and factors. Developing the Amman office was meant to [better] respond to all NGOs who relocated to Jordan for security reasons. Closing the Kuwait office was due to limited funds and a small presence of NGOs in Kuwait (most of them knew each other and didn’t need a heavy coordination mechanism). Maintaining Erbil was meant to link with many NGOs that relocated in the north. And, of course, maintaining Baghdad with all support staff relocated to Amman (communication, administration and finance etc…). But there was no immediate change in coordination teams and coordination mechanisms.
The Charter is a separate issue. NGOs decided to review the charter in order to open the doors to newborn NNGOs, to develop the advocacy and lobbying mandate in parallel to the coordination one, but also to include themes like capacity building, research and publications etc. One of the main reasons was also to re-affirm the principle of NGOs and, accordingly, NCCI.
There was also a hidden reason behind the new charter. In fact, between the departure of Philippe Schneider and my arrival, there was a gap in the management of NCCI. During this period, some non-genuine NGOs became members of the platform. It was easier to cancel all registrations and ask for re-registration, according the new charter and its principles. The best way to filter and get rid of some private companies registered as NGOs, or religious or political organizations with different agendas than the humanitarian imperatives.
b) How did this affect its ability to implement projects and coordination? What were the advantages and disadvantages?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): There were several reasons for the re-organization set up in 2005:
- Limited funds available for NCCI operations after July 2005
- A huge setup; NCCI had at that time (5 offices in Kuwait, Amman, Baghdad, Basra and Erbil with more than 60 staff members)
- The allocation of the majority of humanitarian actors to Amman
- The UN took the lead again on coordination, due to easy access of everyone to everyone in Amman (compared to Baghdad’s security difficulties(.
As for the change in the charter, in 2003, and the time of NCCI’s creation, many NGOs joined NCCI. NCCI had high levels of activities in terms of quality and quantity and the period witnessed the emergence of many active Iraqi NGOs. Due to all of this, there was a need to develop the charter according to: a) Iraq’s working environment, b) lessons learned during NCCI’s first year of working. To the best that I know, there was a need to review NCCI’s charter before 2005. However, and due to the high turnover in the Executive Coordinator position, this was not possible. After February 2005, NCCI had a strong leadership who started lobbying amongst members for necessary amendments in the charter.
NCCI: How did this affect its ability to implement projects and coordination? What were the advantages and disadvantages?
Former Information and Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): The reorganization affected a lot of the coordination. Imagine you go from a $1 million USD budget per year to $0. However, the change of charter enabled us to focus only on genuine humanitarian members, and also to open up to NNGOs. Therefore, to become stronger in front of adversity or to defend principles, as we all really stand on the same side.
NCCI: In what ways did the newly elected and formed Iraqi government facilitate or limit NCCI’s coordination activities? How did members (or the organization in question) reform their goals to adapt to the major political changes?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): There is no doubt that when a government starts working, coordination of the humanitarian efforts in this country will be the responsibility of this government. However, INGOs and other actors will need time to build trust with this government in order to join the governmental coordination mechanisms. NCCI’s coordination activities were indeed limited in Iraq after the formation of the new government, but this wasn’t due to this reason rather than the relocation of the majority of humanitarian actors to the neighboring countries.
The election of the new government didn’t change a lot of the reality of the humanitarian situation on the ground. However, the political overview (at national and international levels) adopted another direction. The international community welcomed the idea that “Reconstruction is Going Well in Iraq” while it was not going well and Iraq awoke in the beginning of 2006 to face one of the worst periods of sectarian violence and displacement in its history.
NCCI: In May, 2005 NCCI started having more interest in having NNGOs as members. Was this one of the reformed goals?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): Indeed, NNGOs started to be important actors in humanitarian operations in Iraq. The deterioration in the security situation pushed the majority of international humanitarian actors out of the county and those who stayed in Iraq were hosted in high security compounds with very limited access to the field. Being out of the country or hosted in secured shelters forced humanitarian actors to start new management systems and to act through local partners (NNGOs). NCCI’s charter was reformed to welcome the new actors in the humanitarian field, as during NCCI’s establishment there we very few NNGOs who were mainly based in the KRG.
NCCI: During the period of the formation of the government (2006-2008), a civil-war was also taking place.
a) How did NCCI navigate the volatile political and security landscape during this period?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): Like most Iraqis, we were observing, analyzing, networking, collecting information, and acting according the context, location, timing to insure our security and to survive as human beings. Politically speaking, Iraq was strongly fragmented and having a global understanding of the situation needed additional research, understanding etc… to provide a coherent and consistent independent reading of the situation to our members in order to survive as an institution.
Our neutrality, our principles, our transparency, our network and our constant effort to explain who we are and acting according our principles helped us navigate the specific context described in your question.
b) What were the challenges and in which areas of its initiatives did NCCI excel?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): Security analysis, incident anticipation, good contacts in the field, overview about the situation for the new comers to Iraq were the main elements of NCCI’s added value for NCCI for those who are stationed out of Iraq. Connections with other actors, links to the field, and information about who is doing what and where were very much appreciated services by NCCI’s members.
NCCI: How has NCCI’s registration as a Swiss NGO and Jordanian and Iraq INGO changed its role in Iraq’s humanitarian context and relationship with its members?
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): By creating a legal presence in all three countries, NCCI is now better positioned to advocate on behalf of its members at an international level about the situation in Iraq. For example, we were able to gain ECOSOC status (something that would not have been achieved without our Swiss presence) enabling NCCI to bring humanitarian and developmental issues in Iraq to various UN fora, the European Union and significant donors. This is hugely important given the reduced attention for Iraq amongst international communities.
NCCI: With the decrease in violence and end of the civil war, how did NCCI and its members reorient themselves to new and developing needs of Iraqi humanitarian and civil society?
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): Despite the fact that Iraq has always had a very strong sense of the need for civil society and a civil society itself, it became very clear in the past 5 years that existing civil society organizations needed a lot of support and training if they were going to have any real impact. NCCI started to focus more closely on Iraqi NGOs as potential members and indeed board members, in an effort to closely link NNGOs to INGOs and other international agencies. This has had quite an impact on NCCI's work as it is currently the first organization that an international agency will contact when aiming to be linked with civil society groups and NNGOs. This is a vital service for Iraq given the established lack of access in the field due to a continuing unstable environment.
NCCI's members started to re-orientate projects towards the emerging long term developmental needs. They did this also using more and more Iraqi NGO partners, also training NNGOs how to implement such projects. Consequently, NNGOs started to skill up in certain areas.
NCCI: How did projects change in response to Iraq’s post-civil war status? What role did NCCI have in rebuilding?
Former Field Coordinator (2008-2011): Since its inception, NCCI has been one of the major actors in prioritizing needs and setting the agenda for civil society in Iraq. NCCI continued highlighting the needs within the Iraqi context whether relief-oriented or development-oriented, by means of its field-based networks and nation-wide partnerships with different stakeholders. NCCI initiatives designed and implemented its activities in light of its awareness of the constantly changing needs of the humanitarian context in Iraq. Therefore, NCCI's projects varied from needs assessments, coordination of assistance provision, and relief delivery, to more developmental projects of civic education, capacity building, peace building, and community involvement in the democratic process at large.
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.