Iraq: humanitarian aid in unstable areas
While the 25th September referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan is stirring up community tensions, the fall of Islamic State group strongholds Mosul and Tal Afar have not spelled an end to fighting, nor an end to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Terre des hommes (Tdh) is continuing to provide emergency aid in spite of the instability of the area. Stephan Richard, our Operations Manager in Iraq takes stock of the situation.
Two months after the coalition’s offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group, what is the situation in Mosul?
Certain neighbourhoods were completely destroyed, while in others IS offered less resistance and therefore less damage was caused there during the recapture of the city. Parts that were persistently occupied may have been booby-trapped with explosives and mines, thus further delaying the return of families who must wait for their neighbourhoods to be deemed safe. Moreover, the fear that fighters could be “hibernating” in cells and waiting for the right opportunity to take up arms again is stopping people from returning to their previous homes.
How has Tdh’s emergency aid developed in this area?
At first, we were working on the front line when access was still difficult for the rest of the humanitarian community. For a long time, we were present at “Scorpion Junction” which was one of the few crossing points open to leave the city. When the humanitarian response intensified with the progressive use of armed forces, we decided to let other international NGOs take our place, and focussed on deploying our aid to areas around Mosul, where access remained difficult.
What are you planning for the return of families?
We will continue to distribute basic necessities to the west of Mosul, and we will also provide 500 shelters for the most vulnerable families. Each of these shelters houses 6 to 8 people. This aid will help respond to the needs of people coming from the neighbourhoods of Mosul which were most affected by the coalition’s bombardment, and which were partially or totally destroyed.
And in the Tal Afar region?
We are continuing our activities for displaced people, by providing drinking water, distributing emergency kits, providing care to children and adolescents fleeing from combat areas, and opening temporary schools. In Tal Afar, we have opened a reception centre where we welcome women and children while their husbands, brothers or fathers undergo checks by Iraqi authorities and information services, a process which can take several days.
Is Terre des hommes continuing to monitor the front line?
There are still several occupied areas, notably a vast region to the west in the Iraqi desert (Anbar). Fighting remains very intense there and our team, which arrived two days after the liberation of the city of Ana, noted the disastrous consequences of reconquering the last areas occupied by the Islamic State group. In Ana, the hospital has been completely destroyed. We aim to organise an emergency response in support of health and education in this newly-liberated area.
Can we talk about a war which is ending?
Iraq’s future remains very uncertain, with or without IS. The geographical area occupied by the self-proclaimed Caliphate will very likely be liberated from the terrorist group’s control in the coming months. Nevertheless, there will still be IS fighters present on Iraqi territory. Therefore, it is likely that we will see an upsurge in terrorist acts and localised attacks. Furthermore, the effect of collusion between different armed actors against IS has completely blurred issues related to identity, clans and religion which have rattled Iraq for several decades and which could resurface after the fall of IS.
The referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan is currently in the news…
The consequences of this vote could also upset the balance between the Iraqi State and Kurdistan, which has been autonomous since 1974, and has managed to extend influence during these years of struggle against IS. Furthermore, the popular forces which started the rebellion against IS, while recognised and armed by the Iraqi government, may now have different agendas to the sovereign authorities. Redistributing roles to all the parties which fought to end the “Caliphate” will require a lot of effort, time and negotiations.
How does Tdh’s strategy position itself in this context?
We have to respond to a twofold need. We must continue to respond to emergencies on increasingly isolated and difficult to reach front lines, as well as maintaining emergency support activities in sensitive areas and in strategic parts that are potentially subject to tensions between stakeholders. We also have to anticipate what help is required for displaced people who are starting to return home and rebuild their lives, many destitute after having lost absolutely everything.
Stephan Richard, Operations Manager of Terre des hommes for Iraq.
Photo credit: ©Tdh
Discover our webdoc Heartbeats at Mosul's gates.