30 Apr 2013

After a month of interviews highlighting many years of challenges, successes, and future prospects of NCCI, a final reflection on Iraq’s current situation and NCCI’s vision for future humanitarian work will hopefully serve to contextualize the purpose of many questions and answers. While it has been 10 years since the invasion of Iraq and the launch of the international humanitarian and developmental aid work in the country, it can be argued that little progress or stability has been witnessed in Iraq. It is without a doubt that most, if not all, gaps in Iraq are linked either directly or indirectly to the challenging political climate and the absence of a strong collective voice to represent the Iraqi community as a unified entity based on Iraqi national bond.

A simple yet revealing indicator of impact of the conflict in Iraq is that the average life expectancy at birth today is 58 years, which decreased from 65 years recorded in the 1980’s, and ten years less than the average for the region (67.5 years) and the world (68 years)[1]. The distribution of the Iraqi population is also another indicator of the impact of the conflict, as there are around 1.5 million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Iraq and almost twice that number living as refugees outside Iraq, according to UNHCR.

Iraq was once among the most diversified economies of the region, but today its high dependence on oil revenues has become a problem. This high dependency on oil is having an adverse effect as few/limited employment opportunities are gener­ated, and fluctuations in oil prices and revenues invoke political tension, which in turn fuels disagree­ment over the ownership and division of revenue sources.  60% of Iraq’s GDP is generated from oil, and it accounts for 99% of exports and over 90% of the government’s revenue[2].

However, more than infrastructure, services and general economics, Iraq needs peace and reconciliation to exist among its own sons and daughters, without the influence of external powers that are not always aligned with the country’s best interests. This type of national healing can be only built internally by the country’s diverse communities, and if it is achieved then the possibilities for this exhausted country can truly be limitless.

NCCI is an organization that is dedicated to strengthening the coordination of aid and information sharing in Iraq, and many of its efforts are concentrated on strengthening Iraqi NGOs and CSOs to become more active and relevant to the building and healing process in the country. While the lack of mechanisms for effective participation hinders the ability of citizens to claim their full rights, it must be said that despite the national and regional tensions, the civil society community has been growing in size and effectiveness over the past ten years. In the years following the invasion and the civil war, the relationship between the population and authorities is becoming more cooperative and mutually accountable. Furthermore, local NGOs are beginning to play a larger role in Iraq’s development and civil society coordination. NCCI believes that this type of social development and integration is an essential factor for moving forward, and will therefore continue working to support the Iraqi civil society so that in the next ten years it can be said that it was not the politicians, the economists or the foreign countries that turned Iraq around, but instead it was the emerging sense of social responsibility and leadership of the Iraqi community that actually saved Iraq.  As this change occurs, NCCI’s future role may take various forms in coordination or advocacy. However, this will be determined by the needs of the Iraqi community as a whole.

[1] GoI Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, National Report on the Status of Human Development 2008 (2008)

[2] UNDP Iraq

Is Iraq a county in need of emergency-driven post conflict aid? Has it moved into a phase that requires developmental assistance? Or is both? Over the past 5 years now and particularly following the US troops withdrawal, Iraq's status is still in much debate.

One suggestive indicator of an incomplete transition from emergency is the high number of IDPs that remain displaced, although IDP return rates have been increasing in recent years and months. "With some 470,000 people residing in 382 settlements in Iraq, internal displacement remains a major problem and internally displaced persons (IDPs) require continued assistance and protection from UNHCR until a dignified solution is found to their plight," says the UN Refugee Agency.[i]

Other humanitarian and political challenges Iraq has to face include accommodating the needs of Iraqi refugees returning from neighboring countries, which has been accelerating over the few past months as a result of the Syrian situation; solving the issue of the disputed territories; strengthening the security and minimizing the civilian casualties; eliminating poverty and illiteracy; empowering women and youth; and upgrading the health system among others.

Indicators to the current status of Iraq, such as the withdrawal of UN OCHA in 2011, the UN's implementation of the UNDAF instead of an ICAP, point to international entities pushing for developmental assistance.

The UNDAF is the strategic program framework that describes the collective response of the UN system to national development priorities in any country. It is widely employed in countries transiting from emergency to development. Most of these challenges fall under the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), the first of which for Iraq was signed by the United Nations and the Government of Iraq in May 2010, and was described as a milestone in Iraq's recovery and transition towards longer term development.

Under UNDAF, Iraq's development priorities are: Improved governance, including protection of human rights; Inclusive, more equitable and sustainable economic growth; Environmental management and compliance with ratified international environmental treaties and obligations; Increased access to quality essential services; Investment in human capital and empowerment of women, youth and children.[ii]

Yet, the continued presence of ECHO, the efforts made by UNHCR, WFP and other UN agencies specialized in emergencies points to the opposite direction, i.e. Iraq is still a country that demonstrates levels of emergency-driven needs. These pockets of vulnerability are geographically focused in areas of highly politicized debate within Iraq thus also pointing to the extremely high levels of 'potential' emergency in Iraq.

As the debate goes on, one INGO says it has withdrawn from Iraq for exactly the aforementioned reason, that is Iraq transiting from emergency to development.


Undertaking its first mission in Iraq in November 2002 and beginning its operations in the spring of 2003, INTERSOS closed down the entire operation by the end of 2011. "The main reasons were changed conditions and the Organization's sectors of expertise," according to INTERSOS Secretary General Marco Rotelli. "Iraqi Civil Society Organizations (SCOs) are progressively improving their capacity to deliver and they are better funded, thus partially reducing the added value and impact of having INTERSOS (or other INGOs in the same sector of intervention) involved. INTERSOS is an emergency focused organization [established in Italy]. Its statute is clearly focused in emergency relief with proper liaison with development actors. Broadly speaking we believe that Iraq has entered the rehabilitation and development phase, thus drastically reducing the impact of our work," he added.

A third reason cited was the balance between the need for a presence of international staff in Iraq and related risks compared to the planned phasing out of the organization.

When asked if INTERSOS has faced any problems related to funding or was subjected to any pressures that ultimately led to the decision of closing down, the organization denied any such correspondence, indicating instead that in fact, it was a planned and implemented phase out.

When and where possible, INTERSOS tends to implement the LRRD concept (Links between Relief, Rehabilitation and Development). Most of INTERSOS presence and activities in Iraq in the last years have been focusing on the handover of ownership to local actors/partners working particularly in capacity building and activities for the strengthening of the CSOs, including NGOs.

History of INTERSOS in Iraq

INTERSOS undertook its first mission in Iraq in November 2002, and began its operations there in the spring of 2003. The first interventions, which got underway just before coalition troops entered Baghdad, comprised of supplying chemotherapy drugs for children to the Al-Mansur Hospital in the capital, the distribution of emergency aid and the clearance of landmines and Unexploded Ordnance. In 2003, with the backing of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), INTERSOS brought assistance to Kurds returning from Iran at the Al-Tash refugee camp. Soon afterwards it began providing assistance to abandoned elderly people, protecting minors in the poorest urban areas and supporting voluntary repatriation from Iran and Saudi Arabia. Between April and May 2004, during the siege of Fallujah, INTERSOS provided aid – food, medicine, blankets and other non-food items, to those people living in the city and to the refugees arriving in Baghdad. Since October 2004 the international staff of INTERSOS, due to concerns about their safety, had collaborated with local staff by means of a distance management procedure. In spite of these problems, according to INTERSOS, it was more important than ever to provide moral and material assistance in Iraq, where people were still struggling against instability and insecurity. Later with the improvement in security conditions, the international staff were able to coordinate more frequently and for longer with local staff in organizing missions inside the country. In the last two years INTERSOS's work has concentrated on giving humanitarian assistance to displaced persons and people in transit, and on helping the reintegration of those wishing to return home. It was also involved in Mine Risk Education, an Italian-Iraqi telemedicine program and the training of social workers for the Iraqi Ministry for Work and Social Affairs.

Since 2003, INTERSOS provided humanitarian aid to more than one and a half million Iraqis affected by the continuing conflict throughout the country. Furthermore, it worked towards strengthening local NGOs in Baghdad and Diyala through a micro-grant program. Since 2006, thanks to a telemedicine network established between Italy and Iraq, hospitals, doctors and children in Baghdad, Basra and Erbil have benefitted from on-line treatment and discussion forums.

Lessons Learned

INTERSOS is currently developing a paper to capitalize on lessons learned from Iraq, especially in the following different aspects: Conditions and rationale behind the (humanitarian) intervention in a crisis; Entity and nature of non-humanitarian actors and the potential for image confusion; Acceptance and nature of the threats; Impact evaluation; Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRT), blurring lines between humanitarian action and military activities; Humanitarian space; Staff integrity; Economical interests-humanitarian action, Public perception; Remote Management; and neighboring countries, situation in the country hosting remote management offices.

INTERSOS also expects that other emergency oriented organizations will start thinking about withdrawing or handing over their operations to their development branches.

Has Iraq Made the Move?

A certain level of security is a fundamental condition for development. Overall violence against citizens has dropped to a fraction of the highs of 2006-2007. This has allowed Iraq to try to host regional forums such as the already once postponed Arab Summit in late March 2012, and the 5 + 1 Meeting in Baghdad to discuss Iran's nuclear program in May 2012. Heavy security measures had to be imposed in both events. However, no major security incidents occurred, which points to a certain success by the Iraqi government on that front.

The rate of economic growth is an equally core factor in measuring development. In September 2011, the Iraqi Minister of Finance Rafeh al-Isawi confirmed to Radio Sawa (US Radio) that the percentage of growth in Iraq (priority No. 2 as per the UNDAF) "has reached 5%," warning at the same time of the "inflation rate that is creating pressures on citizens of Iraq." The Minister was speaking from Washington where he participated in the meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Contradicting percentages were cited by the Arab Investment and Export Credit Guarantee Corporation (AIECGC). Its first quarterly report published in 2012 stated that Iraq had reached 9.6% economic growth in 2011 making Iraq in second after Qatar in the Arab world. The report goes on to predict an increase in growth of up to 12.6% in 2012, which, if it happens, would place Iraq as the first on the list. [iii]

The figures provided by the above mentioned Corporation (described on its website as a regional membership body of which all Arab countries are members) were apparently not quoted by the UNDP's Arab Development Challenges Report 2011, recently launched in Beirut (May 11th 2012). The UNDP's Report alerts readers up front that it "will not be dealing extensively with special case or conflict countries, particularly Palestine, Somalia and Iraq", clarifying that "this is not to underestimate the impact of conflict on human development. To the contrary, we believe the issue is too important to be handled superficially and warrants special attention beyond the scope of this report." (page 16)

Another development-related factor was highlighted this week by the media under a startling headline "millions in global aid for Iraq sits unspent." The article by the Associated Press argues that "millions of dollars in international aid to build and repair Iraq's dilapidated schools have for years gone unspent. Now, Iraq's government risks losing the funding as the World Bank weighs whether some of it would be better used elsewhere." This certainly will affect the empowerment of youth and children (priority number 5 as per the UNDAF), despite the fact that Iraq is a rich country with USD100 billion annual budget.

Going back to priority number 1, "improved governance, including protection of human rights", claims have been made by Human Rights Watch in regard to "a clandestine jail and alleged torture site under the control of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki" that "continues to operate more than a year after the government ordered it shut down." In a report released early May 2012, the rights group said "Iraqi security forces are grabbing people outside of the law, without trial or known charges, and hiding them away in incommunicado sites."

As the Arab Development Challenges Report puts it "Charting an Arab development path anchored in human dignity that promotes social, economic and political inclusion, social justice and equity is not only desirable, it is also within reach." If it can avoid the follies of corruption and lopsided development often associated with what many have called the "resources curse", Iraq, compared to Egypt and Yemen for example, will be at an advantage, given that it has the second largest oil reserves in the Arab world. In this case, development in Iraq will indeed be within reach.

[i] http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e486426&submit=GO

[ii] http://www.iauiraq.org/reports/UNDAF%20Booklet-English-WEB.pdf

[iii] http://www.iaigc.net/?id=7&sid=30