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Briefing Paper

Humanitarian Agenda 2015

Strengthening the humanity and dignity of people in crisis through knowledge and practice

Iraq: more challenges ahead for a fractured
humanitarian enterprise
By Greg Hansen1

December 2008

Introduction 2
1. Scepticism about prevailing
narratives of success 4
2. Adapting to the Iraqi context 9
3. Dysfunctional co-ordination 12
4. The Status of Forces Agreement
and Strategic Framework 14
5. Conclusion 15
UNHCR staff are briefed by US troops near Hurriyah on the situation of displaced
persons, September 2008. Photograph by Dan Martin. The Feinstein International Center
develops and promotes operational
and policy responses to protect and
The war in Iraq has gone on longer than World War I and, while violence diminished in the
strengthen the lives and livelihoods
second half of 2007, nothing has been resolved. The differences between Shia and Sunni, the
disputes within the respective communities, and the antagonism against the US occupation of people living in crisis-affected and
are all as great as ever. -marginalized communities. The Center
Patrick Cockburn, Moqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, 20082 works globally in partnership with national
and international organizations to bring
about institutional changes that enhance
Greg Hansen is an independent researcher based in Amman, Jordan. He has worked effective policy reform and promote best
since 1994 with a wide variety of humanitarian organizations in the Caucasus, south
Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. Hansen has tracked humanitarian policy and practice.
operations in and around Iraq since early 2004.
This report is available online at
Patrick Cockburn, Moqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, Faber and Faber, London,
2008, p253.
Introduction is most acute. While some operational hu-
manitarian organizations have adapted well
Despite a relative reduction in the level of through effective management of security
violence in Iraq, as of December 2008 Iraqis and operational challenges, operational Acronyms
continue to face serious and persistent capacity still lags behind access: many
threats to their safety and welfare due to a accessible needs are not being adequately CAP Consolidated Appeal
mix of ongoing conflict, lack of access to met.
basic services, spotty performance of Iraqi ICRC International Committee
line ministries, serious inefficiencies in the The recently signed Status of Forces of the Red Cross
humanitarian apparatus itself, and inad- Agreement (SOFA) means that the gradual
equate operational capacity of aid actors withdrawal of the MNF-I is now a certainty. IDP Internally displaced person
on the ground. There is a strong likelihood Some humanitarian organizations are
of additional violent conflict in Iraq for situated advantageously to sustain and even JCC Joint Coordinating Committee
years to come. Humanitarian action that scale up their operations as the context
can adapt to a changing Iraq as the Multi- evolves over the next months and years. JMOCC Joint Military Operations
National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) draws down Others are now faced with the urgent need Coordinating Committee
will be needed for the foreseeable future. to either adapt their modus operandi to a
changing Iraq, or to leave. Without a more MNF-I Multi-National Force - Iraq
There are an estimated 2.4 million streamlined and independent operational
displaced Iraqis and some 2 million Iraqi modality, the UN’s humanitarian apparatus NCCI NGO Coordination Committee
refugees in neighbouring countries. is seriously disadvantaged by the shrinking in Iraq
Displacement in Iraq has slowed somewhat of the MNF-I umbrella on which it depends.
as violence has ebbed in some parts of the It may struggle to be an effective humanitar- OCHA UN Office for the Coordination
country. However, despite government ian actor in the months and years to come. of Humanitarian Affairs
incentives and political pressures for the
return of Iraqis who have fled their homes, PRT Provincial Reconstruction
the pace of return (an estimated 180,000 so Purpose and Scope Team
far3) indicates low confidence among some In our June 2007 study, Taking Sides
of the most victimized Iraqis regarding or Saving Lives: Existential Choices for PSP Private Security Providers
the extent and durability of security im- the Humanitarian Enterprise in Iraq4, we
provements. In areas experiencing the explored the themes of universality, impli- SOFA Status of Forces Agreement
most dramatic security gains, aid agencies cations of terrorism and counter-terrorism,
report that compared with two years ago coherence, and security (see Box 1). We SOT Sector Outcome Team
when the main preoccupation was with aimed to identify systemic strengths and
security, the main demand is now shifting weaknesses in the humanitarian apparatus, UNAMI UN Assistance Mission for Iraq
to greater access to basic services such as and assess the outcomes of the choices
water and health. Tentative improvements made by its various actors. This Briefing UNDSS UN Department for Security
in the security situation in some areas have Paper provides humanitarian practitioners, and Safety
resulted in increased expectations. policymakers and donors with a review of
new developments in the Iraqi context for UNHCR UN High Commissioner for
Since late 2007, few parts of Iraq have humanitarian action since mid-2007. It Refugees
been truly off-limits to organizations that takes a forward-looking approach, antici-
have made the changes and investments pating new and emerging challenges and UNICEF UN Children’s Fund
required for effective operations in reason- calling attention to lessons that have been
able safety at bearable cost. Humanitarian learned and spurned by various agencies WFP World Food Programme
actors that are not under the MNF-I in their efforts to adapt to the changing
umbrella are to some degree present and context. WHO World Health Organisation
active in all governorates, even in locations
where conflicts are ongoing and insecurity

Based on data collected by UNHCR and partners from various sources, IDP Working
Group Update, September 2008, p8.

Greg Hansen, Taking Sides or Saving Lives: Existential Choices for the Humanitarian
Enterprise in Iraq, Humanitarian Agenda 2015 Iraq country study, Feinstein International
Center, Tufts University, June 2007.

dysfunctional coordination architecture
Box 1
for the humanitarian response in Iraq. The
fourth section surveys the implications for
Humanitarian Agenda 2015 -- Four Crosscutting Themes humanitarian actors of the SOFA, with a
view to anticipating the measures needed
Research conducted by the Humanitarian Agenda 2015 project has been organised to ensure optimum preparedness for the
around four cross-cutting themes, which permeate the Iraq case in profound ways: humanitarian enterprise as its operating
environment changes with the drawdown
Regarding universality, our earlier research confirmed a clear and unambiguous of US forces. The conclusion describes the
resonance between Islamic or Iraqi understandings of the ideals of humanitarian dilemmas for donors that arise out of their
assistance and protection, on one hand, and the ‘Dunantist’ or principles-based hu- multiple obligations to good humanitarian
manitarian ethos underlying many western-dominated humanitarian institutions. As donorship, and a call is made for a compre-
we noted, however, humanitarian ideals have the potential to unite, but humanitarian hensive and high-level review of the UN’s
practice divides. The visible parts of the humanitarian enterprise in Iraq tend to be humanitarian performance in Iraq.
those that have embedded with an unpopular belligerent. Meanwhile, humanitarian
actors that have striven to adhere to more principled approaches tend to keep low
profiles, to the extent that their activity is largely hidden from view. Little progress has Methodology
been made in bridging cultural divides, knowledge gaps and perceptual differences. This research draws primarily on evidence
from 45 semi-structured interviews and
We observed in mid-2007 that local and international manifestations of terrorism conversations with current and former hu-
and counter-terrorism had created a toxic and dangerous political environment for manitarian practitioners since the summer
humanitarian actors, serving to increase the scale of civilian needs in Iraq while de- of 2008. Participants were from interna-
creasing the capacity and willingness of humanitarians to respond. Aid agencies have tional and Iraqi NGOs, the International
tried to adapt to this environment in markedly different ways: some by investing more Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UN
in acceptance, outreach and creative programming, and others by becoming bunker- Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), UN
ized and isolated from beneficiary communities. The present review observes that humanitarian agencies and donors in Iraq,
humanitarian responses are seriously impaired when agencies lose their proximity Amman and elsewhere. Interviews with
with affected people and their communities. aid workers inside Iraq were held online
and by telephone. The paper also incor-
Our earlier country study on Iraq also noted the dangers inherent in pursuing porates data gathered during research for
coherence between political, military, and humanitarian agendas. As US-led forces in a lessons-learned exercise earlier in 20085,
Iraq prepare to scale down their presence and eventually leave, we note that substantial which interviewed 56 humanitarian staff
parts of the international humanitarian apparatus will have to adapt or leave. from a broad spectrum of 25 operational
humanitarian agencies in Iraq. Interviews
Finally, the earlier study observed that the security of humanitarian actors had were supplemented by a review of aid
dominated discourse and decision-making on the humanitarian response in Iraq agency documentation, earlier reviews of
since the summer of 2003, to the extent that security constraints routinely trumped humanitarian action and by other research
the humanitarian imperative in many agencies. That remains the case for several recently conducted in the region by the
humanitarian actors, including those in the UN system. We also noted, however, that author. The paper thus takes into account
many operational agencies regarded neutrality in Iraq not as an abstract notion but developments over a five-year period.
as an operational necessity to protect themselves and their beneficiaries from targeted
attack. Organizations that are known to be neutral will now have an important com- A draft of this paper was circulated for
parative advantage for remaining active in Iraq as the MNF-I scales down. comment to UNAMI, UNHCR, NCCI,
the ICRC and some donor agencies. Some
of the comments received are reflected in
The first section of this paper provides an community, and serious flaws in the UN’s the final product. As with all Feinstein
overview of developments in the humani- humanitarian apparatus. The second section Center products, we invite feedback from
tarian landscape, questioning the current is a review of key lessons learned by opera- all quarters. Readers are encouraged to
narrative of success and progress prevailing tional actors. It highlights the ways that suc- send their comments and criticisms to the
in western capitals and media coverage of cessful agencies have adapted their activi- author at and to
Iraq. It calls attention to the risks posed ties to an insecure and politically-charged the Humanitarian Agenda 2015 (HA2015)
by increasing politicisation of internally environment, describing the shortcomings Project Director Antonio Donini at
displaced person (IDP) and refugee returns, of remote programming and low-profile
the fragmentation of the humanitarian approaches. The third section describes

Greg Hansen, Focus on Operationality Briefing Papers, NCCI, January 2008.

1. Scepticism About the Table 1
Prevailing Narrative of
Related Factors in the Reduction and Renewal of Violence
Factors Credited with Reducing Seeds for Renewed Violence
While acknowledging that violence Violence
in Iraq has decreased over the last two
years, most humanitarian practitio- Completion of displacement of A poorly managed and politicized effort to
ners view the narrative of success and communities from their homes and return IDPs and refugees to their homes
progress currently prevailing in western exchanges of populations from and prematurely, or in ways that shift demo-
capitals and media as premature, subject between many formerly mixed areas. graphic realities on the ground, risks igniting
to serious setbacks and motivated flashpoints for violence resulting in secondary
largely by political agendas6. Despite displacement and deprivation.
tentative improvements, Iraq remains
a highly unstable and conflict-prone Ceasefire order by Moqtada al-Sadr over Tactical withdrawals from clashes with the
country where, on a typical day, there the Mehdi Army militia. MNF-I in Sadr City and with Iraqi Forces
are dozens of attacks in the central in Basra have allowed the Mehdi Army to
and southern governorates, frequently remain a powerful armed force that can be
involving civilian deaths and injuries. mobilized quickly. Strong antagonism re-
For the moment the need for humani- mains between the Mehdi Army and another
tarian assistance and protection has sta- powerful Shia militia, the Badr Brigade. There
bilized, but at a level that remains high. is considerable cross-fertilization between the
Operational agencies are focusing more Badr Brigade and the Iraqi Forces.
on water and sanitation, rehabilitation
of schools and clinics, and transferring Formation of loosely-knit cadres of mostly- Renting the quiescence and temporary loyalty
expertise to Iraqis. But serious gaps Sunni fighters in “Awakening Councils”, (al of “Awakening” groups has effectively armed a
remain and the likelihood of renewed Sahwa) or “Sons of Iraq”, to oppose extremist host of new Sunni militias which are strongly
large-scale violence is high. There are Sunni groups loosely referred to as “al-Qaeda antagonistic toward the Shia-dominated
clear indications that the presence and in Iraq”. government. There is intense scepticism about
activity of humanitarian actors will be plans for the integration of “Awakening”
needed in Iraq for several years. Some fighters into the Iraqi police and military, and
humanitarian agencies maintain stocks reluctance in the Shia-dominated government
of pre-positioned emergency goods to keep them on the payroll.
in strategic locations inside or near to
Iraq to ensure rapid response to sudden The MNF-I’s surge strategy, entailing a tem- The US presence has deterred some intra-
increases in needs. The ICRC maintains porary increase in the number of US combat communal and inter-communal violence in
its largest emergency medical stocks troops and in spending for military civil- some areas. As the US withdraws, violence
worldwide in the Iraq operation. affairs activity, allowed for increased military is likely to resume or increase in areas where
operations aimed at stemming opposition and Iraqi Forces are ineffective or partial.
Although violence has diminished, inter-communal violence. Implemented in
the improvements are not necessar- accordance with new US counter-insurgency Reduction in civil affairs activity may mean
ily durable. Open warfare persists in doctrine, the surge has combined aggressive that those Iraqis who financially benefited
the governorates of Ninewa, Kirkuk military measures with billions of US dollars from the US strategy will be cut off, with
spent on military civil affairs activity aimed at unpredictable results.
creating a more permissive environment for a
As writer James Denselow observes,
“…it seems that the paradigm of military presence. One outcome of the surge The separation barriers in Baghdad, whatever
success has become so prevalent was the erection of concrete barriers and their alleged beneficial effects, have caused
that few challenged the celebration checkpoints to isolate several neighbourhoods acute disruptions for Baghdadis and are
by war advocates of a month (last of Baghdad. deeply resented. As long as the barriers are
June) in which “only” 460 Iraqis allowed to remain in place, they will continue
lost their lives through violent death. to isolate communities from one-another
How is this so? With media coverage making genuine reconciliation more elusive.
at an all-time low, politicians are
able to fill in the gaps with their own Gradual improvement in the reliability and Resumption of open hostilities between mi-
stories of success.” James
conduct of Iraqi police and military at check- litias is likely to draw unreliable Iraqi Forces
Denselow, “Delusions of success”,
points in some areas have made movement into the fray.
The Guardian, August 1 2008. between some areas relatively less risky than
commentisfree/2008/aug/01/ in the recent past.

(Tameem), and Diyala. The population in Humanitarian Funding excerpted from the 2009 CAP, according
most of the remaining parts of the central The UN’s Consolidated Appeal (CAP) to the UN Office for Co-ordination of
and southern governorates remain at risk for Iraq in 2008 requested a total of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Financial
from the effects of rekindled latent conflicts. $274,253,721 and was 67% subscribed by Tracking Service, the US, Iraq and the
As depicted in Table 1 below, virtually all of mid-November, with the US, Iraq and the UK committed 48.8%, 11.3% and 7.2%
the factors that are credited with reducing UK committing 30.1%, 21.8% and 6.5% respectively. In the 2009 CAP, the UN
violence also contain the seeds of renewed respectively for a total of 58.4%. 6.3% or has appealed for a doubling of resources:
violence. Latent power struggles between $11,636,655 was allocated from the UN’s $547.3 million, including $192.3 million
militias and the government, and between Central Emergency Response Fund. The for assistance inside Iraq and $355 million
militias themselves, pose continuing threats European Commission Humanitarian for assistance to refugees outside. ECHO
of reverting back into open large-scale Aid department (ECHO) pledged just funding for Iraq in 2009 has not yet been
warfare in a context where the national 0.2% or $583,090 to projects listed in the decided.
military and police forces still demonstrate Appeal, although it provided $15,000,000
conflicting loyalties. Unresolved conflicts to agencies inside Iraq (predominantly the While the US, UK and Iraq itself
over oil revenues and Iraq’s internal bound- ICRC) and $15,000,000 to organizations accounted for the greatest share of hu-
aries similarly threaten to explode. The working among Iraqi refugees outside. manitarian funding (67.3%) in 2008, it is
possibility of fracture along Arab-Kurdish unclear whether aid resources from these
lines is illustrated by recent heightened Total funding requests for 2008, including countries will continue on the same level
tensions in the area of Khanaqin northeast both the 2008 CAP and requests for addi- in the coming years as the military and
of Baghdad and, at a political level, between tional contributions such as those from the political involvement of the US and UK
Prime Minister al-Maliki and the Kurdish ICRC and bilaterals, amounted to a total of phases down.
leadership. $424,589,843. As shown in the table below,

Table V: Iraq 2008 (incl. Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries)

Total Humanitarian Assistance per Donor (Appeal Plus other*) as of 12 November 2008 •
Compiled by OCHA on the basis of information provided by donors and appealing organizations

NOTE: “Funding” means Contributions + Commitments + Carry-over
Pledge: a non-binding announcement of an intended contribution or allocation by the donor. (“Uncommitted pledge” on these tables
indicates the balance of original pledges not yet committed).
Commitment: creation of a legal, contractual obligation between the donor and recipient entity, specifying the amount to be contributed.
Contribution: the actual payment of funds or transfer of in-kind goods from the donor to the recipient entity.

Source: 2009 UN Consolidated Appeal for Iraq and the Region, November 2008.

Returns of Displaced Iraqis occupying the houses of displaced persons agencies. On one hand, there are grounds
and Refugees to leave within one month, following which for facilitating a return as soon as safely
evictions were to be conducted. A govern- possible in order to avoid the entrenchment
Some 4.4 million Iraqis have fled their mental Return Cell was recently established of displacement and the institutionalization
homes because of violence and insecurity in to manage pending returns and to provide of the demographic divisions that ratify
Iraq, most since the invasion in 2003. Only tangible support for returnees. inter-communal cleansing. On the other
3%, or about 180,000 Iraqis according to es- hand, there is an acute risk that as pressures
timates7, have so far returned. An estimated There is a concern shared by many mount on the humanitarian community to
9% of these have returned from refuge in humanitarian professionals that because begin facilitating returns, returns will be
other countries, with the vast majority of returns are regarded as a barometer of neither safe nor sustainable. It is far from
returnees going back to their homes from security conditions in Iraq, political certain whether the localized and relative
other places inside Iraq where assistance pressures for return are increasing. reduction in violence of the recent past will
and protection are far less assured. However, as in many other settings, persist. The potential for further bloodshed
including Afghanistan, the Balkans and the from rushed returns is high, and there
The government of Iraq has been Caucasus8, premature returns pose extreme is a strong likelihood that those who are
encouraging returns with cash grants of risks to those who are enticed or decide of convinced to return prematurely may again
approximately $800, rental subsidies and their own volition to go home before their be displaced. Accordingly, there will be a
restitution for lost property. Camps for neighbors are ready to receive them (see continuing need for humanitarian agencies,
IDPs have been closed by the Iraqi Forces Box 2). Data is not gathered on returnees particularly the UN High Commission
in response to a government edict requiring who are re-victimized and forced into for Refugees (UNHCR), to resist political
IDPs or “squatters” to leave government secondary displacement in Iraq, but several pressures and assess conditions in places of
property. A prime-ministerial order was gruesome attacks on returnee families un- potential return from a purely humanitar-
given in August requiring all individuals derscore the dilemma facing humanitarian ian perspective.

Box 2

Is Sectarianism Finished?

Lots of people in Baghdad have lost their houses. One in nine Iraqis—probably the real figures are higher—is a refugee inside or
outside the country. They can’t get their houses back. People are moving—Sunni who have come from tough Sunni areas—Shia the
same, maybe some of them have gone back but otherwise you don’t go back to a mixed area if you’ve lost your house. It’s even a
mistake to inquire too closely about what’s happened to your house, because people who’ve taken your house may go for you, or you
think that’s true. There are a lot of revenge killings—someone’s taken your house, you can’t get it back, you have them killed. And
so there have been real demographic changes on the ground. You can’t reverse something like that with words.

Sectarianism, are we through the worst? We might be in some ways, it’s difficult to tell. There have been some very bad bombings
recently. There haven’t been tit-for-tat killings as we had before. People are exhausted. But reducing sectarianism, I think it’s very
difficult to do, there’s just been too many people being killed and there have been real demographic moves. It’s very difficult to put
those in reverse. But you can see what Iraqis think about the situation because refugees are not coming back. You hear optimistic
stuff from the Iraqi government or from the Americans or the British but if this was true people would be coming back. They’re not
having a great time in Damascus, they are running out of money, they can’t get jobs, but they’re not coming back, and some of them
that do come back, they go back to Damascus or Amman.

Patrick Cockburn of The Guardian, veteran Iraq journalist and author, speaking at the Frontline Club,
London, 3 April 2008.

IDP Working Group Update, September 2008.

See, for example, Larry Minear and Neil MacFarlane, Armed Conflict In Georgia: A Case Study in Humanitarian Action and
Peacekeeping, Occasional Paper No. 21, Humanitarianism and War Project, Brown University, 1996. http://www.watsoninstitute.

A Fractured Humanitarian The “Canal Hotel Syndrome” policies, and hobbled by a culture of victim-
Enterprise and the UN’s Faltering hood and risk aversion. Security decisions
are highly centralized and are taken far
The humanitarian enterprise in Iraq Humanitarian Apparatus away in New York by the UN Department
remains a loose constellation of several The true measure of success for the UN of Safety and Security (UNDSS), which
sets of actors: the ICRC, Dunantist-leaning is not how much we promise, but approves or rejects all movement of inter-
international and Iraqi NGOs operating how much we deliver for those national staff with an average turnaround
through direct implementation or remote who need us most. time of 21 days. UNDSS has consistently
programming from Amman, Iraqi NGOs, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary required that UN agencies in Iraq follow
international NGOs and non-profits that General’s Acceptance Speech high profile deterrent and protective strate-
are dependent in varying degrees upon, 3 October 2006 gies10. While such strategies may be suitable
or affiliated with, the MNF-I, and the UN for safeguarding UN political staff moving
agencies (UNHCR, the Children’s Fund UNAMI, which has a predominantly between military bases and other protected
(UNICEF), World Food Programme political mandate, has made important facilities, they are far less suitable for facili-
(WFP) and the World Health Organization strides in preparing the way for provincial tating humanitarian operations in the safest
(WHO) and OCHA). Sharp differ- elections in late January 2009 and is active possible conditions. Only token consider-
ences over humanitarian principles persist in resolving disputes over internal bound- ation is given to the counterproductive and
between agencies striving to remain at aries and other pressing political conflicts. maladaptive aspects of such approaches
arms length from the MNF-I (and, in some However there is a widespread percep- in Iraq. There is no evidence that the UN
locations, from Iraqi authorities) in order tion both inside and outside the UN that agencies are able or willing to give due
to safeguard their ability to operate, and UNAMI’s preoccupation with the political consideration to how greater emphasis on
the UN agencies, some international NGOs aspects of its mandate has impaired the acceptance and effectiveness could enhance
and non-profit corporations that remain UN’s humanitarian roles by diluting focus the safety of UN humanitarian operations
reliant on the MNF-I for security and other and inhibiting latitude to act. The senior in Iraq. They have effectively acquiesced in
forms of support. There are sizeable varia- management of UNAMI sees the UN’s UNAMI’s integrated mission rather than
tions among humanitarian actors in the humanitarian role in terms of providing an acting on their own mandates. As such,
degree of proximity they have to affected entry point into communities in support the UN’s humanitarian apparatus is only
Iraqis and their communities. While no of UNAMI’s political mandate and as an marginally closer to being an operational
humanitarian actor moves freely among instrument for restoring the UN’s cred- humanitarian actor inside Iraq than it was
needy populations in the central and ibility in Iraq9. But the reverse does not three years ago. As one experienced former
southern governorates—at least not in the hold: UNAMI’s tendency to instrumental- UN agency staffer put it,
high profile manner typical of aid responses ize humanitarian action in support of its
in other conflict areas—some have found political tasks has not been matched by a New York seems to be very much trying
better ways than others to ensure that they readiness to harness its unique political to control the Iraq [humanitarian]
stay connected with communities and do apparatus to safeguard or facilitate humani- operation, and is seemingly still in shock
not become isolated and aloof from the tarian efforts. The predictable result is that after the Canal Hotel bombing in 2003.
populations they are meant to assist and other parts of the humanitarian apparatus No one is willing to take any risks and
protect. Further, in a climate of shrinking in Iraq are often loath to be associated too push the operation back into the field -
donor resources for humanitarian action in closely with UN efforts because the UN is instead playing it ‘safe’ from Amman and
Iraq, stark contrasts in value for money are seen as co-opted and ineffective. Although from within the Green Zone, though the
readily apparent: organisations that have there is widespread recognition within danger of being perceived as a part of one
maintained closer connections with com- UN agencies that the UN needs Iraqi and side in the conflict seems to me much
munities are better placed to mount ap- international NGOs to function as its more of a danger and a major hindrance
propriate and well-targeted responses more operational arm, the added value to other for effective project implementation.
quickly and with greater effectiveness. parts of the humanitarian apparatus of the
UN’s humanitarian role is far less clear. The UN’s security policies and practices
in Iraq are markedly different from agencies
More than five years after the bombing that have far greater operationality and less
in Baghdad of the UN’s Canal Hotel head- isolation from vulnerable people and com-
quarters, the UN’s humanitarian agencies munities. One striking contrast is that few
are still shackled to their MNF-I minders organizations apart from the UN require
by draconian, one-size-fits-all security their staff to live and work in facilities that

Telephone interview with the SRSG Staffan de Mistura, September 2008.

Our Iraq country study also noted the pressures brought to bear by the UN Staff Association against a greater UN presence in Iraq.
Hansen, Taking Sides…p60.

are frequent military targets in an ongoing programme is broadly regarded as a hopeful thus were in effect remotely managing
war. Most humanitarian actors in Iraq, and positive development. The UNAMI the operation in Iraq (from the Green
large and small, adopt a “light footprint” Human Rights Reports of 2007 and early Zone, which is about as far away from the
which entails a diffused presence with 2008 were widely applauded for being both real Iraq as Amman, maybe even
unobtrusive facilities and activities that do forthright and comprehensive in an ex- further—in Amman you at least have
not attract unwanted attention. All but a traordinarily politicized context. However, access to Iraqis living in Amman) as well
few agencies reject MNF-I protection and when a former UNAMI insider was asked as remote managing the UNHCR office in
all other aggressive deterrent strategies or why the reports were now being issued only Amman.12
highly visible protective strategies, investing sporadically with long gaps in between, the
instead in knowing the context, forging explanation was that UNAMI’s human The former head of mission of an
relationships, emphasizing effective work rights role had been plagued with problems important UNHCR partner confirmed this
and building tolerance and acceptance in in 2008. The office had been allowed to fall view, adding that he had recommended to
communities. Most also decentralize their into disarray and, as a result, a carefully-laid his headquarters earlier in 2008 that they
security decision-making to the field so system of human rights reporting, moni- suspend partnership with UNHCR.
that it remains responsive to changes in toring, NGO relations, and interviewing
the context while avoiding the institution- victims had collapsed. Throughout 2008, UNAMI and the UN
alization of security postures at unsuitably agencies have frequently spoken of their
high—or low—levels. Interviews generally yielded a litany intentions to increase the scale of their
of complaints about the choices made by humanitarian presence in Iraq. Given that
At the strategic level, much-anticipated senior UN management, particularly in there has been no significant reduction
improvements in the UN’s humanitar- regard of increasingly dysfunctional and in the UN’s security posture anywhere in
ian role have largely failed to materialize wasteful coordination architecture and an Iraq for several years, UN claims that it
following the UN’s elaboration in early extraordinarily difficult partnering envi- has beefed up its presence of international
2007 of a new strategic policy framework ronment. UNHCR Iraq, which intends to humanitarian staff inside the country ring
for humanitarian action. Aid workers from double its budget to $81 million in 2009, hollow for many observers. International
throughout the humanitarian community, was singled out for harsh criticism from staff are still required to move, live and
as well as several donors, overwhelmingly partners, several former staff and others for work behind blast walls under high profile
expressed disappointment at the evident running disjointed and out-of-touch offices armed guard provided by the MNF-I or the
inability of the UN’s now-sprawling, in Amman, Kuwait City and Baghdad that, UN’s own protection details.
expensive and convoluted aid bureaucracy in the views of those interviewed, have been
in Amman and Baghdad to make meaning- more concerned with placating UNHCR’s In our earlier country study we noted
ful and consistent progress in improving its main donor—the US—than with respond- that some humanitarian organisations
own humanitarian response capacity and ing meaningfully and in a timely way to had successfully increased the scale of
effectiveness on the ground. In summariz- urgent needs for assistance and protection. their operations as insecurity increased,
ing a long list of complaints and grievances, In the words of one experienced aid worker without resorting to deterrence measures.
it would not be an exaggeration to say that familiar with UNHCR, “Acceptance strategies”, we observed,
in the view of most of those interviewed for “do not render humanitarian workers
this review, much of the UN’s aid apparatus My reading of the UNHCR operation immune from targeted attack in Iraq but
in Iraq gives the impression of a Potemkin in Iraq is that it was more or less a non- do contribute to greater adaptability and
Village: an impressive illusion, with little of operational operation, with very few longevity of humanitarian programs.”13
substance behind it.11 Attention is focused positive impacts on the ground except for Acceptance is fragile in Iraq, and is subject
on flying the UN flag rather than on le- some very ad hoc non-food item to being lost if an organization performs or
veraging expanded access by virtue of its distributions and a very symbolic and behaves poorly. As one aid worker recently
presence. very basic shelter programme… in Sadr cautioned, accepted organizations strive
City after the heavy fighting that took for “passive tolerance” if an active embrace
Some notable exceptions to the overall place there earlier this year. UNHCR isn’t forthcoming from the community.
pattern were heard during the course of management was mostly sitting in Tolerance needs to be carefully managed,
interviews. UNICEF’s nascent IMPACT Baghdad, with no access to the daily and a major part of that is ensuring that an
operations of the Amman office, and organization is effective at what it does.

The term “Potemkin Village” refers to a hollow construct or façade that is meant to give observers the mistaken impression of
substance. It derives from the story of idyllic false villages allegedly constructed by General Potemkin for the benefit of Empress
Catherine the Great during her travel through the Crimea in the late 1700s.
UNHCR’s High Commissioner, António Guterres, announced the shift in UNHCR’s management from Amman to the Green Zone and
an intensification of UNHCR’s work in Iraq on February 18 2008 at the end of a visit to Baghdad and the region. UNHCR’s partners
at the time were reportedly not consulted about the decision to make the shift.

Hansen, Taking Sides…, p50.

On the other hand, there is clear evidence for rather than against their effectiveness. bunkerization. Both of these reactions to
that affiliation with “the occupier”, bunker- Iraqis at risk cannot afford to have their insecurity for aid workers have come to
ization, and aggressive deterrent strategies safety and welfare jeopardized by wasteful resemble humanitarianism on life support.
are counterproductive to perceptions of spending of increasingly tight resources on Second, coordination efforts in Iraq have
neutrality, acceptance and effective op- agencies that ignore hard evidence about been uncommonly dysfunctional due to
erations. The UN’s current preoccupation how to work effectively in reasonable safety the fragmented nature of the humanitarian
with shifting humanitarian management at bearable cost. apparatus and, particularly, the failure of
functions to the Green Zone and its stated the UN coordination and security models
intention of “increasing its footprint in The abilities of some agencies to operate to adapt to the Iraqi context.
Iraq” are badly out of step with the evidence effectively in the existing context—notably
of what works and what does not work in the ICRC, several international NGOs, the
Iraq, not least because the Green Zone and International Organization for Migration The Changing Effectiveness of
other such heavily-protected facilities are and little-known Iraqi NGOs—have Remote Programming
the most frequently attacked places in all of increased substantially over the past several
Iraq, and the least accessible to Iraqis. years. More than humanitarian access or As insecurity for aid workers increased
insecurity for aid workers, which pose between 2003 and 2005, nearly all hu-
difficult challenges in every context of manitarian organizations that decided to
2. Adapting to the Iraqi violent conflict, the primary challenge in continue their operations changed their
Context Iraq is to find ways to adapt operations to operational modality from direct imple-
the context so that they take full advantage mentation to some form of remote pro-
of access opportunities and localized gramming. This involved international staff
Quite apart from changes in the external increases in humanitarian space. Indeed, managing the activities of Iraqi staff from a
environment, the more important evolution the most successful agencies have not been safe distance in Amman, Kuwait or Erbil.
in the humanitarian response in Iraq has passive consumers of humanitarian space As inter-communal and intra-communal
been the degree to which successful opera- but have invested heavily in creating their violence spread in Iraq in 2006-2007, more
tional agencies have learned from experi- own humanitarian space by understand- Iraqi aid workers and NGOs found their
ence, mustered the needed creativity and ing the local contexts where they work, own mobility impaired or simply ended by
dexterity, and adapted themselves to the re-establishing proximity to victims and acute insecurity, such that their own fields
challenges posed by a singularly politicized their communities, and demonstrating of view and geographic scope of activity in
and threatening environment. No organiza- their neutrality and effectiveness. But these the country fell off sharply. Consequently,
tion has escaped the need to grapple with the improvements have still been insufficient. many Iraqi NGOs were also forced to
risks and threats posed by the Iraqi context. Much of the humanitarian apparatus has engage in remote programming. Different
The complexities have afflicted all agencies, lacked sufficient flexibility for adapting forms of the modality were adopted first as
but some organizations have adapted to the to rapidly-changing contexts in Iraq and an alternative to programme suspension or
context with good results. Others have not. absorbing sudden shocks. In a situation closure, and can be credited with keeping
The contrasts between successful and un- somewhat reminiscent of Darfur between the flow of vital assistance moving even
successful agencies are remarkable and rich 2003-2005,14 characterized at the time during the most violent crisis periods.
with learning potential about what tends to by a similar state of disarray within the
work well in Iraq and what does not. humanitarian enterprise if not under the Whilst remote programming options
same constraints of working in low profile, have kept the aid pipeline into Iraq open,
If, as it is already showing signs of doing, many accessible needs are not being met. it has been an increasingly imperfect and
the narrative of success in Iraq translates into Serious gaps remain in terms of geographic inefficient way to work. Figure 1 below
dwindling donor support for humanitarian coverage, adequacy of the assistance traces the changing effectiveness of remote
action, then aid effectiveness and value-for- provided, and consistency across sectors. programming from peak quality in early
money are going to become increasingly 2006 through a period of decline which ac-
important factors in donor decisions about Two complexities in Iraq make it more celerated with the explosion of violence in
how scarce resources are applied. Donors difficult to match operational capacity 2006-7. This decline in effectiveness reflects
will need to look much harder to determine with needs. First, only the most competent that it has proved enormously difficult for
which agencies have demonstrated real operational agencies have found ways to international managers and Iraqis them-
comparative advantage in adapting to the overcome the prevailing loss of proximity selves to maintain a store of the “soft skills”
Iraqi context, and lend their support to to affected Iraqis and their communities of humanitarian professionalism that are
humanitarian actors that have adopted op- that results both from remote program- indispensible to successful operations in
erational and security modalities that work ming, low profile modalities and from Iraq.

See Larry Minear, The International Response to the Darfur Crisis, 2003-2005, Remarks prepared for delivery to the ALNAP
Biannual Meeting, Brussels, December 8 2005.

Visibility and ‘Footprints’ of of its membership to share its membership of a government department in places
Humanitarian Agencies list. Basic information about who does where authorities are better accepted in the
what where has been and remains closely community than aid agencies. Recalling
In addition to remote programming, low guarded, and the absence of such a basic the situation in former Yugoslavia, where
profile modalities have also became the coordination device as a who/what/where aid agency staff had several sets of different
norm in Iraq since 2004 when nearly all matrix has had a stunting effect on coordi- calling cards printed for use on different
humanitarian organizations in the central nation efforts. In terms of presence inside sides of the conflict, staff of several western-
and southern governorates went steadily Iraq, some agencies and their staff go to based agencies disguise the origins of the
more underground. Agencies adopted the extreme of disguising their premises as assistance they provide, not revealing the
low visibility and “covert” approaches to businesses or professional offices, and many home country or name of the organization
premises, vehicles, staff and programming. staff of international organizations feel they work for.
The NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq compelled by the perceived lack of safety
(NCCI) still does not have the permission to misrepresent themselves as employees

Figure 1
Changing Effectiveness of Remote Programming in Iraq

As international staff were displaced from the Although remote modalities are still, on balance, a more effective &
places where humanitarian action was most needed, adaptable option than bunkerization & other modalities involving embedding
responsibilities & risks were transferred to Iraqi with combatant or adoption of deterrent strategies, several factors combine
staff. Agencies’ leaning curves in remote modalities to make remote modalities less effective over time.
were steep, but the shift was initially facilitated by
the experience in Iraq of the international staff & the International staff with experience in Iraq have moved on. National staff
existing trusting relationships they had with national have had their own movements & scope of activity reduced by inter &
staff. intra-communal conflict. Burnout among local staff has taken an increasing
toll. Among international staff, loss of proximity to victims & communities
The quality of remote modalities may have reached its inside Iraq tends to result in a falling-off of the emergency mindset in remote
peak in about late 2005 / early 2006. locations like Amman. The solidarity with victims that animates creativity &
willingness to take risks becomes difficult to maintain, as does the sense
of common cause between agencies. Although assistance activities through
remote programming are still the favoured modality among independent
agencies, motivation, coordination & effectiveness suffer as a net result.

Based on interviews with operational agencies using remote programming modalities

Loss of Proximity to Affected Amman seems to be well on its way to sail An even more serious consequence of
Iraqis and Their Communities up as a new Nairobi (serving South isolation from beneficiary communities
Sudan, Somalia and any other is the loss of knowledge of operational
The costs of losing proximity to vulner- conflict in the Horn of Africa), offering contexts that is so essential in Iraq for
able Iraqis and their communities are often a luxurious and easy life for expats informing programming decisions about
underestimated and have far-reaching impli- assigned to different ‘Iraq operations’. where, when, with whom and how to
cations for aid effectiveness, accountability, People can keep busy in workshops, engage in humanitarian operations.
sustainability under changing conditions, working groups, seminars, meetings, Thorough context analysis has proven to be
and value for dollar. One of the unanticipat- report writing/reading, liaison activities, a necessary condition for identifying access
ed effects of remote programming has been and whatever other gatherings. opportunities in Iraq and finding ways to
the inadvertent institutionalization, over exploit them effectively in reasonable safety.
time, of the geographic and psychological The point here is not that aid workers It also informs aid agencies how to become
gaps between those in remote management in such settings are not making important known by communities. The evidence
roles and their counterparts on the ground contributions – many certainly work from Iraq is that aid workers in bunkers or
inside Iraq. This happens in a few different extremely hard and make every effort to managing from safe distances become out
ways. Some agencies write clauses into their stay connected to beneficiary communities of touch with and unknown to the com-
contracts for international staff forbidding across the geographic and psychological munities they need to rely upon for at least
travel inside Iraq. Some agencies classify gaps. But the quality of the contributions passive tolerance—if not active acceptance
Amman and Kuwait as sought-after family made by remote managers can suffer or facilitation—of their work.
postings where aid workers can conduct because the emergency mindset that comes
their lives in a normal fashion that is rare in from living and working among people
the humanitarian profession. As one experi- in need is more difficult to maintain at a
enced remote-programming veteran put it, distance.

Box 3

Whither the Use of Private Security Providers?

Changes to the security umbrella provided to security contractors by the MNF-I are very likely to result in a reduction in the
number of security companies in Iraq, as few western-based companies will be able to build the necessary level of tolerance in
Iraq enabling them to operate. Companies favouring high-profile tactics (aggressive convoy and facilities protection) will be at
a disadvantage compared with companies offering lower profile protective services (plain cars, discreet weapons, unobtrusive
Contrary to some accounts,15 the use of private security companies has largely been rejected by aid agencies in Iraq. Private
security providers (PSPs) are numerous and figure prominently in the coalition-funded reconstruction and nation-building
effort. Research conducted on the use of PSPs by humanitarian agencies in Iraq16 (part of a broader study conducted by the
Center on International Cooperation and the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute) showed that
PSPs have been used by a small minority of humanitarian agencies. When PSPs are used by humanitarian organizations the
PSP role is typically circumscribed and low profile. In exceptional cases, some agencies have employed PSPs as an alternative to
accepting military escort from the MNF-I, or to gain smoother access to otherwise inaccessible donors and authorities that have
opted to situate themselves inside a security bubble in the Green Zone in Baghdad.
In contrast to the majority of humanitarian organizations, agencies engaged in US-funded reconstruction activities that are
affiliated with the US counter-insurgency effort and whose programming necessitates the movement of large amounts of cash
about the country have had the active support of major donors to employ PSPs for armed protection of facilities and staff.
Most operational organizations in Iraq have successfully employed unobtrusive, in-house acceptance and protective strategies.
Few have used PSPs in risk/threat assessment, advisory or training roles. There is a widespread sentiment in the humanitarian
community that use of PSPs would be a net liability for humanitarian security. The majority of active humanitarian organizations
reject both the need for PSPs and the form of security that they provide.

See, for example, Patrick Cullen, Iraq: Armed Humanitarianism, International Relations and Security Network,
March 5, 2008.
See Abby Stoddard, Adele Harmer and Victoria DiDomenico, The use of private security providers and services in humanitarian
operations, HPG Report 27, September 2008.

Cautious Movement Back to 3. Dysfunctional NCCI in 2008 is a pale comparison to what
More Effective Modalities Coordination was asked of it in 2003 and 2004 before it
relocated most staff to Amman. Covert
The low profile and remote program- humanitarian action by many NGOs has
ming approaches have paid dividends Iraq’s bewildering coordination archi- had the obvious effect of preventing greater
in the short term in a context where aid tecture for humanitarian action is spread awareness of their work among Iraqis
worker insecurity is high due to blurred across several geographically and psycho- themselves, but also among other NGOs,
distinctions between combatants and aid logically isolated locations and is infused donors and UN agencies. Some continue to
agencies and where misperceptions about with strong political undercurrents. While maintain lower profiles than may be strictly
affiliations with “the occupier” or with there is a veritable frenzy of ongoing coordi- necessary as local security conditions and
the host authorities can be deadly for aid nation activity in Amman, the Green Zone acceptance by communities have changed.
staff and their beneficiaries. The benefits and other hermetically-sealed locations, Given the impaired coordination that
of working invisibly, however, need to be a recurring complaint from operational results from hidden humanitarianism and
balanced against the short, medium and aid workers on the ground is that they feel the implications of this for greater effective-
long-term costs to humanitarian space. out of touch with, and unsupported by, ness and accountability, a discussion of the
Aid agencies face a dilemma: unless they structures established and maintained at need for “glasnost” is long overdue.
work with greater visibility, it is difficult to great expense to facilitate their work. It is
foster an understanding of the differences a common observation that the meetings,
between instrumentalized aid activity and discussions and processes taking place
neutral, needs-based humanitarian action, in Amman have become far more self- The message I personally understood is
and nearly impossible to encourage the referential over time. Meeting minutes the following: We, the UN, coordinate and
greater acceptance by communities needed from gatherings in the Green Zone suggest monitor from secured compounds, while
to enable scaled-up activity. However, in- that those laboring behind the blast walls you -- NGOs -- go out to the field and
creasing the visibility or scale of the activity are even more out of touch than before take risks that we’re fully aware of.
can draw unwanted attention to an aid actor with the challenges and opportunities that Head of Mission of a UN partner
and result in increased security problems. are evident to those working in the field, NGO on double standards between
and more lacking in points of reference to UN agencies & NGOs
In recognition of the costs of covert how humanitarian action in Iraq is actually
humanitarian action and remote program- done in practice by the perceptibly inde- In general the UN seemed to be extremely
ming, some agencies have already begun pendent and neutral organizations that will remote from the realities in Iraq. The
raising their heads above the parapet in be well-placed to remain active as the US [Green Zone] is a heavily fortified bunker,
carefully chosen locations. A number have drawdown proceeds. [and the UN premises inside it are…]
taken a selective approach to displaying defended by UN soldiers and Protection
their organization’s signs at distributions Despite the many millions of dollars of Officers, body guards and mercenaries
or placing logos on vehicles. A few have scarce donor resources invested in UNAMI, (several of whom have combat experience
resumed sending international staff back OCHA and (to a more modest extent) NCCI in Iraq with occupation forces - some have
to parts of the central and southern gover- for humanitarian coordination and infor- been assigned to interrogation units…).
norates without resorting to the deterrent mation management, those interviewed for The organization is, in addition to living
strategies likely to lead to problematic this review could point to little added value in the middle of different armies,
misperceptions about an affiliation with for the investments that have been made in travelling with US armed elements in and
the MNF-I. Several organizations keep a the past two years. Donor and UN agency out of Iraq as well as in the field
continuous watch on a variety of indica- staff often voiced scepticism about how on official missions. Clearly the
tors in their operational environments that representative NCCI is of its members and organization has taken sides
help them with judgements about whether how inclusive it is of the NGO community politically. This way of thinking
a local setting is ripe for an increase in the as a whole. Amid faltering member partici- already starts at the SAIT18 training,
scale of activity or visibility.17 pation, perennial discussions about NCCI’s where there is constant talk of
role and a dwindling sense of ownership ‘the bad guys’.
over it among its members, few aid staff have Former staff member of a UN Agency
any recall of NCCI’s active role in providing
field and sectoral coordination inside Iraq
following the invasion. What was asked of

See Greg Hansen, Operational Modalities in Iraq, NCCI Briefing Paper 2, January 2008, ‘Indicators of Safer Access’, p.6.

SAIT training is the obligatory security awareness induction training for all UN staff who travel into Iraq.

Operational NGOs and other actors embassies and government ministries, all General and Resident/Humanitarian
contacted for the review were acutely situated in or adjacent to protected areas Coordinator, who must devote consider-
conscious of UNAMI’s preoccupation with under the soon-to-be-reduced MNF-I able time to reconstruction and Iraq Trust
the political aspects of its mandate, suspi- security umbrella. Fund duties, spends only about one-quarter
cious of its emphasis on being an integrated of his time on humanitarian matters.
mission, and often scornful of the UN’s In recent months, Iraqi and international Meanwhile, however, UNAMI’s top man-
much-touted increase of international staff NGOs have complained about plans to hold agement has been unsupportive of a more
presence in Iraq. There is a prevailing sense two separate humanitarian coordination independent role and presence for UN
that because of the UN’s restricted field of meetings in Baghdad: one out in the “real OCHA20. Increasingly passive participation
view in Iraq from behind the blast walls of Iraq,” for staff of non-embedded humanitar- in NCCI by its members combined with
the Green Zone or MNF-I forward operating ian actors, the other inside the Green Zone. fear among some UN partners of rocking
bases in Ramadi, Mosul or Basrah, the Although not a bad idea in theory, it rests the boat too vigorously has stifled criticism
UN’s humanitarian apparatus has tended on a reciprocal flow of information that has of the considerable pressures being brought
to over-emphasize its roles supporting Iraqi proved elusive. The decision was seen by to bear on them to fall into line with UN
ministries, and has been overly influenced some of those interviewed as segregating and USAID wishes for a more Green Zone-
by assistance agencies that are accessible to internationals from Iraqis, Arabic speakers centric management of the humanitarian
it inside security bubbles. Un-embedded from English speakers, and non-embedded response.
humanitarian actors complain that the agencies and decision-makers from those
UN agencies seem far less well-informed under the MNF-I umbrella. In addition to Humanitarian Working
about—and out of touch with—the ac- Group meetings in Amman, the monthly
tivities of operational agencies that strive Many NGOs, meanwhile, have tended Iraq Humanitarian Forum was established
to keep at arm’s length from the MNF-I to react angrily to what they perceive as by OCHA in mid-2008, in cooperation
and work effectively with light footprints. mounting UN “political pressures” on them with NCCI, as an operational coordination
Senior UN staff, meanwhile, speak openly to be present in the Green Zone for coor- forum for discussions among executives on
about the need for NGO pragmatism and dination purposes; some major donors, strategic matters affecting the humanitar-
compromise of principles at a time when notably USAID, have long insisted on Green ian community. The intent was in part to
the hard evidence from ground level is that Zone-based coordination. Many NGOs create a bridge between the UN’s humani-
principled approaches have served opera- would prefer instead to pursue the needed tarian apparatus and other humanitarian
tional humanitarian organizations like the coordination at field level or in Amman. In actors, but UN agency attendance at Forum
ICRC19 and many NGOs very well. Amman, Baghdad and Basra however, the meetings has been weak. Hosted by NCCI
UN’s coordination waters have been thor- in Amman, the Forum has so far failed to
By moving its humanitarian management oughly muddied by an unclear division of attract senior management from UNHCR,
functions increasingly into the Green Zone labor and responsibilities between the office UNICEF, or WHO21, who typically send
throughout 2008, the UN has been erecting of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator who relatively junior staff to these sessions if
more barriers to effective coordination. sits in UNAMI and UN OCHA. The OCHA they send anyone at all. The participation
Many Iraqi and independent international office, which is supposed to be functionally of Sector Outcome Team (SOT) Leads22 in
NGOs are prevented by the prevailing managed by the Humanitarian Coordinator, Forum meetings has also been inconsistent.
political sensitivities, logistical burdens has grown rapidly since its late arrival on Yet another new initiative is the formation
and security concerns from participating the scene in the spring of 2007. As it has of a Humanitarian Country Team as
in Green Zone coordination fora. In their grown, confusion about the division of roles required by the revised Terms of Reference
absence, the UN gravitates instead toward and responsibilities between UNAMI and for Humanitarian Coordinators.23 Given the
the actors most accessible to it: a few well- OCHA has increased. The UNAMI Deputy level of UN participation in existing coor-
resourced INGOs and donors, the MNF-I, Special Representative of the Secretary dination structures, it is difficult to see what

See, for example, Karl Mattli and Jörg Gasser, “A neutral, impartial and independent approach: key to ICRC’s acceptance in Iraq,
International Review of the Red Cross, Vol 90 Number 869, March 2008.
In an interview with the SRSG conducted for this review, opposition to a more independent role and presence for OCHA was clearly
stated. Referring to an OCHA plan to build a network of liaisons in all Iraqi governorates seconded from NGOs, the SRSG feared that
“young and inexperienced” OCHA staff in the field could jeopardize the interests of UNAMI because they would be seen to represent
the UN, not just OCHA, and they would tend to exceed their authority. The integrated mission, the SRSG said, was an “institutional
imperative” for UNAMI: a more independent OCHA presence in Iraq would disrupt the UN’s unity and anger other UN agencies.
WFP has sent its deputy head of office to one Forum meeting.
Sector Outcome Teams are the local variation on Clusters.
The Humanitarian Coordinator is responsible for establishing and maintaining comprehensive coordination mechanisms based on
facilitation and consensus building. These mechanisms should be inclusive of all the actors involved at the country level in the
provision of humanitarian assistance and protection, including in particular all locally represented members and standing invitees of
the Inter-Agency Standing Committee . Revised Terms of Reference for the Humanitarian Coordinator:
cap/newpage/Revised%20HC%20TOR.doc 13
possible added value this will have amid the for the temporary presence, conduct, Implications for
plethora of other coordination meetings. withdrawal and form of deployment of Humanitarian Agencies
Meanwhile, Iraqi NGOs and the Iraq staff US troops. The Strategic Framework
of international NGOs frequently complain Agreement for a Relationship of Friendship Over the next three years there is likely
of being isolated from and unsupported by and Cooperation between the United States to be a mix of old and new in terms of
coordination structures. SOTs meeting in of America and the Republic of Iraq was the ways that the US military presence in
Amman were described by several Iraqi signed at the same time as the SOFA was Iraq shapes the humanitarian landscape.
and international aid workers interviewed approved, and contains somewhat more As the drawdown and withdrawal of US
for this review as being “out of touch” with insight into how the US role in political, assets proceeds, forces will be reduced,
conditions on the ground inside Iraq, and economic and other Iraqi affairs will look in re-assigned to other duties, re-deployed to
often disinterested in hearing inputs from the coming years. The documents entered other locations, and their missions changed
the field. into force on December 31, 2008. The SOFA such that they may no longer be available
is valid for three years or until Iraq or the US or resourced to provide the various forms
If it continues, disjointed coordination opts out of it, which requires advance notice of assistance upon which some aid agencies
between the various sets of actors is bound of one year. In a concession to Iraqi parlia- have come to rely. Organizations that
to have serious consequences for Iraqis. mentarians opposed to the agreement, and have hitherto relied upon US forces for
There have been no discussions in the hu- conscious of their vulnerability in provin- the provision of any kind of service or as-
manitarian community thus far about the cial elections slated for the end of January sistance in support of their work are likely
implications of a reduced MNF-I security 2009, a last-minute provision subjects the to find the continuation of such support
umbrella for the continued operationality agreement to a national referendum six increasingly unreliable.
of agencies who are explicitly or implicitly months after its approval by parliament as As soon as the SOFA entered into force
reliant on the MNF-I for their presence, a means of ensuring that US commitments the JMOCC was empowered to take
mobility and activity. Serious assistance are being met. However, strenuous opposi- decisions on the specific locations, disposi-
gaps may open up in the coming months tion to the SOFA is still being voiced by the tion, type and scale of activity of US forces
and years if large, well-resourced assistance al-Sadr movement, and the Association of within the terms of the SOFA and related
agencies such as UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP Muslim Scholars. agreements. Decisions taken therein are
and others are unable to successfully wean likely to have direct implications for the
their activities from their various forms of There is considerable latitude within humanitarian community. In addition, the
reliance on the US presence. The problem is the SOFA. The form of its implementation Strategic Framework Agreement indicates
compounded by a distinct lack of candour rests with a newly-elected US president that several Joint Coordinating Committees
from such agencies regarding the extent of who campaigned on a pledge to withdraw (JCCs) are to be established under the
their reliance on the US. Other agencies US combat brigades by May 2010,25 and JMOCC as bodies responsible for executing
concerned about the welfare of USAID with Iraqi politicians who must placate and monitoring various aspects of the
caseloads, in particular, have to play a the concerns of Iraqis, a majority of whom Agreement. The JMOCC and JCCs are thus
guessing game about serious potential gaps still regard the US military presence in likely to be new and extremely important
that may emerge. their country as an unwanted occupation. foci for civil-military coordination by the
The SOFA commits the US to complete humanitarian community, suggesting the
withdrawal from all of Iraq by December need for the aid community to proactively
4. The Status of Forces 31, 2011. Even if Obama follows through pursue coordination arrangements before
Agreement24 and Strategic on his pledge to withdraw US combat the committees get to work. At present, UN
forces before this, it appears that the SOFA and INGO civil-military coordination is ex-
Framework would not preclude a continuing presence ceedingly weak and ad hoc, where it exists at
of US troops in Iraq. US civil affairs troops, all. New developments underscore the need
Although the newly-minted agreement for example, are active in many countries for these actors to identify civil-military
between Iraq and the US is commonly where the US is not directly involved as a coordination liaisons and to empower
referred to as a Status of Forces Agreement combatant. Thus, there is a possibility that them to represent humanitarian interests as
(SOFA), the document combines the the humanitarian community will need the US drawdown proceeds. Clarification
features of a SOFA—a routine agreement to continue monitoring and coordinating of civil-military coordination channels and
clarifying jurisdictional questions reached with US forces in Iraq throughout and identification of points of contact between
with the host nation wherever US forces are perhaps following the drawdown period, the humanitarian community, the MNF-I
deployed—with the features of a security even if combat brigades are withdrawn by and Iraqi Forces will need to occur without
pact between Iraq and the US that provides May 2010. delay.

Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq
and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq,

Plans for an early withdrawal were somewhat confirmed by President-Elect Obama in a press conference on 2 December 2008.

Several standing requests for information 5. Conclusion For donors that acknowledge the se-
with humanitarian implications should be riousness of ongoing needs in Iraq and
submitted by the humanitarian community Contrary to the current narrative of are concerned about supporting effective
to the JMOCC at its outset, specifically success and progress in Iraq, the country’s and efficient humanitarian responses, the
including ongoing plans and changes to the political health is fragile and the hu- implications for decisions about how to
following: manitarian situation remains critical. In channel their support to the humanitar-
the months and years to come, the security ian apparatus ought to be self-evident.
1. procedures for notification of air and and operational challenges of responding Nearly six years after the beginning of the
land movements by humanitarian to the needs of millions of dislocated and present crisis, it is abundantly clear that
actors, where necessary; vulnerable Iraqis will continue to demand parts of the international humanitarian
2. the scope, scale and activities of the best from humanitarian institutions system are functioning poorly in Iraq. The
military civil-affairs, Provincial and humanitarian professionals. management lapses, missed opportunities
Reconstruction Team (PRT) and and waste that are occurring necessitate a
embedded PRT activity, including Organizations demonstrating flex- comprehensive and high-level review of the
details of handover arrangements; ibility and determination in adapting their UN’s humanitarian performance in Iraq,
3. re-deployments or withdrawal of modus operandi to changing conditions with a view to fixing what has become badly
troops, facilities and barriers where will continue to have a distinct compara- broken. An overhaul is needed if the UN is
changes may affect protection of tive advantage over those that do not. As to be rehabilitated as a serious humanitar-
vulnerable neighbourhoods, freedom resources dwindle for humanitarian action, ian actor capable of responding effectively
of movement of the population and donors will face increasingly tough choices and efficiently in the highly politicized
aid workers, and access to services to ensure that Iraqis in need do not fall and insecure environments that are likely
and markets; through the cracks of a fractured humani- to characterize Iraq for the foreseeable
4. return of civilian facilities (schools, tarian apparatus. Faced with conflicting future. It is in the longer-term interest of
clinics, other public buildings) back obligations, they will need to do a better the humanitarian enterprise—and it is par-
to civilian jurisdiction; job of discerning humanitarian actors that ticularly in the interest of vulnerable people
5. operation and turnover of the have dealt effectively with the complexities who need that enterprise to function well
Reconstruction Operations Center from those that have not. On one hand, on their behalf—that the UN’s humanitar-
and its satellites; they have collectively pledged through the ian shortcomings are acknowledged and
6. operation of the Rhino service from Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative addressed. Iraqis—and the next victims of
Baghdad International Airport, as to support and promote the central role of a politicized emergency in a difficult place
well as any changes in practices at the UN in providing leadership, coordina- —deserve better.
transportation facilities used by the tion and implementation of international
humanitarian community; and humanitarian action. On the other hand,
7. practices governing entry into and they have undertaken to request that imple- Learn more about this and other
movement inside Green Zone. menting organizations fully adhere to good
Feinstein International Center
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Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship, 17 June 2003.