Beyond Humanitarian Relief: Strengthening the Foundation for a More Stable Iraq

Iraq

February 20, 2015

Mercy Corps Policy Brief, February 2015

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Given the complex nature of the crisis in Iraq, humanitarian interventions alone will not build stability. If the Obama Administration and the US Congress continue to take a narrow and predominantly short-term approach to addressing humanitarian needs in Iraq, the cycle of violence will surely continue and most likely escalate.

Interventions that only address the symptoms of the conflict have the real potential to do more harm than good by creating dependencies and sidelining the voices of Iraq’s fledgling civil society and government stakeholders, both local and central. This includes government bodies like the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Directorate, Reconciliation Committee at the Prime Minister’s office, provincial councils and the Iraqi Civil Society Committee, which are seeking to lead reconciliation efforts and address the underlying drivers of the conflict: poor governance and political grievances.

This policy brief outlines the need for increased investments in programming that targets the root causes of the crisis. It highlights the need for a holistic approach to assistance in Iraq that addresses needs throughout the country through work with grassroots organizations — including in areas where needs are great, but access is increasingly difficult for international actors. It also argues for an approach that avoids segmenting aid or favoring particular regions or demographics in Iraq, which in some cases inadvertently fuels sectarianism.

This brief also discusses the emerging and potentially catalytic role of local stakeholders — both civil society and government — in the humanitarian response and what is expected to be a protracted recovery process. It suggests ways to harness and transition towards new models of citizen-government engagement that go beyond immediate emergency relief efforts and take steps towards building a more solid foundation for Iraqi-led peace building, return of displaced populations and eventual reconciliation.

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