Opinion: This make-or-break moment in Iraq's history demands our best joint effort

EU Humanitarian Aid and its partner, Norwegian People's Aid, distribute urgent food aid to 500 families in war-torn western Mosul. Photo by: Peter Biro / EU / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

The magnitude of the humanitarian, protection, and recovery needs in Iraq almost four years since the rise of the Islamic State is clear to see. Just as visible are the results of the generous response that has been leveraged by the Iraqi people, alongside national and international humanitarian organizations. We must now build on this momentum by committing to fully meet humanitarian needs while shoring up sustainable peace through development, conflict resolution, and reconciliation efforts.

Already this year, humanitarian organizations have reached 5.5 million highly vulnerable Iraqis, including 2.1 million who were impacted by the recent military operations to retake Mosul from the control of the Islamic State. Emergency sites were built in record time. Emergency packages of food, clean water, and basic hygiene supplies were delivered to almost 2 million people, and over 1 million medical consultations took place in trauma sites and field hospitals.

The response kept pace even as the crisis quickly escalated beyond humanitarians’ worst-case planning scenarios. We remain committed to supporting principled humanitarian action that saves lives, alleviates suffering, and protects the most vulnerable populations across Iraq. This is not the time to delay, reduce, or withdraw humanitarian assistance. To sustain these efforts, humanitarian actors are appealing to the international community to continue to provide generous support now — when it counts the most.

The humanitarian crisis did not start, and will not end, with the battle for Mosul. Before the end of this year, tens of thousands of additional people will face the consequences of the gruesome fighting in Hawija and West Anbar, which are still under Islamic State control. As these operations proceed, it is imperative that all military efforts put protection of civilians at the center of their operations, and that Iraqi authorities guarantee respect for the rights of all displaced persons.

Protection is at the heart of the crisis in Iraq. The scale and brutality of the conflict, including widespread sexual violence, has left people with traumatic scars that require support to heal.

Hundreds of thousands Iraqis have been injured or maimed. Children have been killed, injured, abducted, detained, and forced to kill. Almost 10 percent of all children in Iraq have fled their homes because of conflict since early 2014, and one in every five children is estimated to need humanitarian assistance. The crisis has disrupted the lives and education of millions of children. It is crucial that we protect the safety and well-being of children and other vulnerable groups at this critical juncture.

The violence in Iraq has also threatened the country’s social fabric, turning neighbors against neighbors in some communities. As we move forward, to pave the path to reconciliation and peace, we must do all we can to mitigate inter- and intra-community tensions, and to address issues of inequality, disenfranchisement, and disillusion that are fuelling the conflict.

But humanitarian action alone is not enough. While working to save and protect lives, the international community must also pave the path to stabilization, recovery, and reconstruction, in close cooperation with the Iraqi government. In western Mosul alone, some 32,000 homes are damaged or destroyed, leaving almost 200,000 people without a home to return to. More than 5.3 million people have been displaced in Iraq since the rise of the Islamic State almost four years ago. More than 3.2 million are currently displaced, and by the end of the military campaign, we anticipate as many as 3.5 million Iraqis are likely to be outside their homes.

These people need support to rebuild or repair their homes to avert protracted stays in camps, which are set up only to provide temporary shelter. But we must also go further, by supporting affected people to recover and rebuild their businesses and other livelihoods, and we must invest in education to enable children to return to school.  

These durable solutions require humanitarian, stabilization, development, and political actors to work together complementarily, toward collective outcomes in line with a new way of working. This is not the first time that Iraq has been forced to confront conflict resolution, survival, stabilization, recovery, and development challenges simultaneously. Many lessons have been learned, and these lessons have informed the Iraqi authorities’ vision for recovery, as spelled out in their roadmap for development, recovery, and post-ISIL reconciliation. This vision addresses exclusion, especially of internally displaced persons, and the provision of livelihood, education opportunities, and social protection.

It is our collective responsibility now to put this vision into practice — to shore up durable peace, stability, and prosperity for the benefit of all Iraqi people.

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About the authors

  • Rüdiger König

    Rüdiger König is the director general for crisis prevention, stabilization, peace building and humanitarian assistance at the German Foreign Office in Berlin. He is leading this new directorate-general since its creation within the Foreign Office in March 2015. The creation of this directorate-general is one of the results of a broad public consultation and review process to strengthen the instruments of the German government in fragile contexts.
  • Mark Lowcock

    In May 2017, Mark Lowcock of the United Kingdom was appointed as the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and emergency relief coordinator. With over 30 years of humanitarian and development experience, Mr. Lowcock serves as the chief coordinator of the world’s humanitarian response in times of urgent crisis. In his most recent position, as permanent secretary for the Department for International Development, Mr. Lowcock led the United Kingdom’s humanitarian response to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Libya as well as to natural disasters in the Philippines and Nepal.
  • Christos Stylianides

    Christos Stylianides is the European commisioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management. Prior to this, he was appointed as the European Union Ebola coordinator by the European Council. He previously served as a member of the European Parliament and government spokesperson of the Republic of Cyprus.