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As the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the Middle East, Iraq Foundation has begun taking precautions to ensure that its staff in Washington D.C. and Iraq remain safe. Notably, as the pandemic was emerging, the Iraqi government announced restrictions on the mobility of people within Iraq and banned travel to and from the country. In response, Iraq Foundation has made updates to its Risk Management framework and has implemented a new risk reporting form specifically for COVID-19.

Our Risk Management framework, updated as of April 2020, rates the likelihood of a risk occurring and how serious the impact would be on a scale from 1-5. From there, we calculate a combined score by multiplying the two responses together, to give an overall risk rating which indicates the overall severity of the risk. The overall rating can range from 1 to 25. IF’s Country Manager Dhefaf Al Jarahi assessed the COVID-19 pandemic and concluded that the risk probability shall be rated a 5/5 and the risk impact shall be rated a 4/5 giving an overall risk rating of 20.

Ms. Jarahi noted that direct communication and engagement with IF partners and beneficiaries is still possible through digital platforms. Thus, operations on IF’s Improving Policy, Service Delivery, Gender Equality, and Responsiveness to Iraqi Citizens project will continue as planned.

The consequences posed by COVID-19 on IF’s current project, being completed in tandem with GPG and funded by SIDA, are as follows: IF staff will need to work remotely; all meetings and activities with partners, stakeholders, and beneficiaries will not take place in-person. Once the curfew in Iraq has been lifted, IF’s staff will begin using the office on a limited basis with social distancing precautions. 

To mitigate the impact of these consequences, IF has examined which activities and meetings are capable of being shifted to an online platform and which ones must be delayed until after the crisis. Attached here, you can view Ms. Jarahi’s full assessment.

By Zaid Fattah

Photo Credits: Anadolu Agency

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a collapse in global oil prices, and the absence of a well-functioning government, Iraqi pensioners have had to deal with yet another crisis: pension cuts. 

Just three weeks ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi’s cabinet voted to cut salaries and pensions for public employees by 10 percent, sparking public outrage. At first, the Prime Minister clarified that the resolution would only impact higher-level governmental officials. However, this was not the case. When Nisrine Saleh arrived at the bank to withdraw her monthly pension, she noticed that her $920 allowance was nearly $100 short. For many Iraqis like Nisrine, their monthly pension has served as an economic haven in the wake of tumbling oil prices from the global pandemic. 

As the primary source of funding for nearly 90 percent of Iraq’s budget, Oil exports, and their recent drastic price shocks, have left the country in a vulnerable position. The government cut pensions — amongst a plethora of other financial reforms —  in an effort to reduce their monthly operating budget deficit of $5 billion. 

Soon enough, it became apparent that the impact on the budget deficit was nominal compared to the economic strain it imposed on individuals. Compared to last year’s monthly earning average of $6.5 billion, Iraq has only earned $2.9 billion in March, $1.4 billion in April, and $2.9 billion in May. Combined with the monthly $1 billion Iraq needs to pay oil companies, $3.5 billion for salaries, and $1 billion for pensions, it is clear that the cabinet’s decision would by no means save the Iraqi economy. 

Following protests and outcry, the Iraqi parliament voted to reverse the government’s order. It also refused to impose any new taxes that would provide revenue streams to the government. Furthermore, state-run banks have announced that pensioners could pick up the money that was deducted from their previous payment. A member of the Iraqi parliament’s finance commented on the incident saying that everything would be fine and that the government’s policy mistakes should be disregarded. But for the millions of Iraqis whose livelihood was put on the line, is it possible to let such mistakes fly by so frequently?

By Zaid Fattah

Photo Credits: Almada Paper

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prove its deadly unwavering control over the Middle East, the Islamic State has seen nothing but opportunity. Just a few days ago, members of the Islamic State killed four individuals, injuring many more, in Iraq’s Diyala province. Furthermore, last week, the Iraq military proclaimed the loss of two soldiers to a roadside bomb, allegedly planted by the Islamic State. Evidently, attacks like these have been commonplace in Iraq; unfortunately, they show no sign of slowing down.

While former Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s may have declared defeat over the terrorist organization in December 2017, reports of violence tell a completely different story. Since his address, the Islamic State has been responsible for numerous major attacks and hundreds of others which haven’t made news headlines. Although the current global pandemic has been a main driver in the recent rise in attacks, it is far from the sole cause. The Islamic State has utilized the security gap between the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraq as a catalyst for carrying out attacks.  The current global pandemic has done nothing but exacerbate such carnage. But why?

The Islamic State’s sudden increase in domestic activity could be attributed to their explicit targeting of rural parts of Iraq. Since making its first appearance in Iraq in 2006, the Islamic State has constantly terrorized the Kirkuk, Diyala, and Saladin provincial regions. In targeting such rural areas, where Iraqi military forces are underrepresented, attacks — big and small — go unaddressed, leading to fewer losses for the Islamic State. Furthermore, the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani has only exacerbated tensions between the United States and the region, causing a withdrawal of aerial surveillance. This has ultimately left attacks unchecked and unpunished, and has subsequently led to the stark increase in such occurrences.

The global pandemic has also provided more opportunities for the radical organization to recruit members. Recent statements from ISIS have stressed the fact that COVID-19 came at the helm of global disobedience and have proposed that the only solution is piety to Islam. Rampant propaganda efforts to disperse recruitment content has led to the Islamic State being active on over a dozen social media platforms now according to Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group. Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi even admits to this view point stating in an online message, “What you are witnessing these days are only signs of big changes in the region that’ll offer greater opportunities than we had previously in the past decade.” This online recruitment message is translated by Hassan Hassan, the director of the Non-State Actors in Fragile Environments Program at the Center for Global Policy.

Furthermore, onslaughts of protestors have disrupted the Iraq government’s ability to deal with acts of terror. When people took to the streets of Baghdad on October 1st, 2019, they sought to convey their anger towards the seemingly perennial corruption and high unemployment that has plagued Iraq for decades. To contain the October Revolution, as it came to be known, the Iraqi government diverted its attention and resources. In doing so, the Islamic State was able to gain hegemony in the region, further disrupting the government’s ability to maintain control.

As the Iraqi government continues its fight against the coronavirus, it’s imperative that they do not look past the lurking presence of the Islamic State, a virus which has disrupted the government’s efforts and desires for stability for over a decade.

By Zaid Fattah

Photo Credits: The Financial Times

The Iraq Foundation (IF) wishes to contract with an External Evaluator to carry out an independent evaluation of its Women Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The one-year project is implemented in Ramadi, Anbar province; Tikrit, Salaheddin province; and Mosul and Hamdaniya, in Nenawa province, and targeted women, families, and local communities. For further information please see the attached Terms of Reference document.

Family event in Mosul

The Iraq Foundation (IF) is currently implementing a 12-month pilot project in 4 locations: the city of Mosul and Hamdaniya in Nenawa governorate; Hayy Al-Mal’ab in Ramadi, Anbar governorate; and Hayy Arba’een in the city of Tikrit, Salaheddin governorate, with the goal of equipping women to build family and community resilience against violence and extremism. The project is providing a core group (56) of returnee (and IDP) women who are survivors of violence with training to enable them to coach and guide a broader segment of women in their communities. Trained women “coaches” will reach out to and work with a broader group of women in the community to increase their understanding about VE and coach them to recognize extremist and violent behavior, build family resilience, and evolve strategies and tools to promote tolerance and moderation, and to resolve conflicts peacefully.

In the period December 1, 2018 -February 28, 2019, the Iraq Foundation and its partners implemented Objective 2 of the project. We completed the dialogue meetings (Objective 2, Activity 3), launched the family events (Objective 2, Activity 4), and held feedback meetings (Objective 2, Activity 5). Women Leaders (WL) who received training through the project held meetings with community women, of whom a large proportion are mothers, to raise awareness about VE, help women to identify signs of extremism or manifestations of violence, and coach them on building resilience by resolving family and community conflicts peacefully and through moderation and dialogue. WL encouraged community women to speak about their experiences and observations regarding violence and/or extremism, and how women can become mediators and agents in countering VE. Family events brought together mothers and children (both girls and boys) in community settings where competitive game

Family event in Hamdaniya

s and activities were played. WL and mothers observed the behavior of children during the competition to learn about children’s interactions and their ability to cooperate and compete peacefully. Local officials attended some of the family events. Following dialogue meetings and family events, WL held feedback sessions with mothers to assess the results of dialogues and community events and provide further coaching to mothers.

Notably, understanding about VE is expanding beyond the immediate beneficiaries targeted by the project. Community women who participated in the dialogue meetings, family events, and feedback sessions have been spreading their newly acquired knowledge and skills to other women, men, and children in their extended families and the community (please see Personal Narratives section below). WL have strengthened their status as coaches and mentors, and community women have encouraged others to benefit from their skills in mediation of conflicts or handling difficult situations with children. Teachers and other professionals who have participated in the project have been especially active in using their acquired knowledge and skills in their work environment, such as in classrooms, in medical clinics, and on the media. Local officials were supportive of the project, seeing it as a valuable contribution to CVE in their communities.

Key Biodiversity Areas of Iraq BookKey Biodiversity Areas of Iraq

IF is proud to support Key Biodiversity Areas of Iraq, an in-depth analysis of critical areas throughout Iraq in desperate need of conservation. This book is the combined effort of Nature Iraq and the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment, which began field research in 2004 to identify Iraq’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) that hold significant biological diversity with a range of animal species and plant life that must be protected. Follow the link above to learn more about the beauty of nature in Iraq and the importance of its preservation, and purchase a copy here on the Amazon marketplace.

 

Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, is a time of piety and philanthropy for Iraqis practicing Islam. The rich traditions of the holiday center on food and community. Special breads, sweets, and juices are prepared and many families celebrate iftar together, breaking fast and practicing the Islamic tenant of generosity at each other’s homes or a local mosque. Ramadan is a time of joy and celebration, yet years of instability have altered Iraqis’ ability to partake in many traditions, changing the culture and practices of a treasured celebration. For refugees fleeing the country, internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps, and those living in cities and villages, cultural shifts have transformed how Ramadan is celebrated, deeply affecting all Iraqis.

The past fourteen years of conflict and destruction in Iraq have transformed virtually every aspect of life for the Iraqi people. This constant violence has had devastating effects and threatens a way of life that has existed for centuries. Though issues of politics, humanitarian crises, and safety usually dominate the international discourse surrounding Iraq, the cultural impacts of conflict are extensive and should not be ignored. The resulting shifts in the practice of Ramadan, a holiday categorized by generosity, celebration, and devotion, embody the harmfulrepercussions of violence and underline the importance of cultural preservation.

For those living in cities like Baghdad, celebration during Ramadan is clouded in fear, with recent acts of terror serving as a reminder of the constant threat of violence. Hayfaa al-Azawi, who lives in Baghdad with her children, recalls Ramadan after the United States invasion in 2003 and also during the time of Saddam; the government limited electricity and rations, so families were not able to cook many traditional dishes. She remembers trading sugar with local bakers in an attempt to buy some sweets for her family that she was unable to cook herself. Now, some don’t ever have electricity, and power outages are often a daily occurrence. This has led to unreliable refrigeration which forces women to purchase, prepare, and cook dishes all on the same day. Grueling work to say the least, especially during times of fasting.

Conflict has increased economic instability as well, and many cannot afford the ingredients needed to prepare dishes traditionally eaten during iftar. Financial uncertainty is widespread, with the breadwinners of countless families either imprisoned, dead, or disappeared. Those living in poverty and struggling to feed themselves on a daily basis are in more danger than ever, braving high temperatures during the day to search for food for their families at night. Before the wars and embargo, children would run from house to house searching for sweets and other special treats from their neighbors. Now, Iraqis struggle to provide for their own children and many have nothing to spare. Fear has marred the joyous and communal culture of Ramadan as families are more concerned with survival than celebration. Hayfaa’s husband Mohamed al-Azawi described how “you could be on your way to a mosque or someone’s house for iftar and a car bomb would go off,” sadly indicative of the normalcy of tragedy in Iraq.  Women who used to come together to make traditional meals now cook alone in their houses, and all Iraqis are fearful of being taken while out in public, as disappearances have become increasingly common. The new culture of violence erodes Iraqi traditions during Ramadan and emphasizes the deep rooted impacts of conflict on society.

Refugees living in camps during Ramadan face similar hardships in preserving their culture in times of crisis. Temperatures are steadily increasing and the danger of heatstroke is exacerbated by fasting. Families living in camps often walk long distances to get their daily water supply which is difficult in extreme heat, especially if these individuals are not eating for 19 hours out of the day. The call for prayer, the traditional signal to break the fast, rarely reaches camps, and most meals consist of daily rations instead of food typically eaten during Ramadan. The schedule of IDPs celebrating Ramadan occasionally conflicts with those working in the camps which can inhibit communication. Many Muslims sleep during the day while fasting, which is usually when workers are performing their day-to-day operations. This creates a disconnect between those living in camps and those working in them and some families miss vaccinations and other important announcements as a result.  For families and individuals migrating during Ramadan, fasting is sometimes impossible, as many have small children or simply are not well enough to fast at all. Migrants must make the difficult choice between adhering to religious tradition and maintaining their health.

Though the holy month of Ramadan is a time of celebration and giving, many are too concerned with survival to enjoy the traditions of the holiday. Conflict has permeated every aspect of Iraqi life, even the most hopeful and festive celebrations, and this loss deserves recognition. Culture is the foundation of identity, and acknowledging the importance of Ramadan’s unique traditions in Iraq and how these traditions shift is paramount to preserving Iraqi society.

 

By Emma Sampson

Within the wide breadth of destruction left in the wake of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), the group’s agenda of eliminating cultural heritage struck a particular nerve for those watching the horrors unfold around the globe. While Da’esh’s horrific treatment of Iraqis and Syrians is not to be understated, the organization’s active decision to cleanse Iraq of its diverse, multifaceted, and irreplaceable artifacts of cultural history flies in the face of human decency and a collective sense of progress; we gage the advancements of our collective human society by understanding our origins and beginnings. In a more formalized sense, these acts also violate UNESCO’s Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and our codified international understandings of historical preservation.

In the shadow of Da’esh and its upcoming inevitable defeat in Mosul, however, members of the global artistic community have sought to preserve, recreate, and re-engineer elements of the Tigris River Valley’s millennia-old artistic tradition.

Last month in London, Michael Rakowitz unveiled his vision inspired by the destruction of Ninawa in the form of his new piece, entitled “The Invisible Enemy Should not Exist.” The artwork, a sculpture of the winged bull Lamassu, is a recreation of a sculpture that “stood at the Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700BC until it was destroyed by the extremist group in Mosul’s museum.” Its recreation, however, is in many ways a somber reflection of a legacy that can never be recovered – Rakowitz’s statue will be made from dated syrup tin cans instead of the original’s marble to demonstrate Iraq’s industry having been “destroyed, like the bull, by war.”

Despite this somber overtone, not all artists subscribe to such a macabre perspective. Nino Thabet, an 18 year old Iraqi artist who studied art at Mosul University, recently started to craft miniature replicas of statues destroyed by Da’esh, such as Lamassu, in nearby Erbil. Thabet is not so naive as to suggest that his art makes up for the “antiquities of [his] country, a civilization that is thousands of years old,” but states that his art sends a global message that “we want to rebuild our civilization and continue to grow artistically.”

Across the Atlantic, Samar Abdulrahman, a refugee settled in Kennewick, Washington, finds a personal connection to her family and Iraqi heritage through art. Separated from her brother, Omar, who is also an artist, Abdulrahman paints pictures that connect her new life in the United States with imagery of the Baghdad of her childhood, and in turn, with her brother who still resides there. Her paintings are reflective of both the beautiful country she was raised in, and of the promise of family reunification and a future that is “happy and safe.”

While the artwork of Rakowitz, Thabet, and Abdulrahman reflect differing viewpoints and memories of recent Iraqi history, they more importantly echo the endurance of Iraq’s artistic and cultural legacy, one that extends beyond antiquity and into an infinite, as-of-yet-unwritten future. In this continuing heritage, it reaffirms the urgency of protecting and preserving Iraq’s cultural record, one that is still under threat of extinction, while we, as a global community, still have the opportunity. Their artistry is a testament to the influence of an Iraqi cultural legacy that resonates the world over, reverberating outwards from the headlines we read, the art we preserve, and the stories its refugees tell.

 

By Connor McInerney

As the coalition offensive to retake crossMosul from Da’esh continues, various communities displaced by the group’s terror have sought to return to their historic and cultural communities. Included within this group is Iraq’s Christian population, many of whom left home in Ninewa at the start of the conflict in June of 2014. While Iraqi and American forces continue to close in on the heart of Da’esh in Iraq, the newly liberated areas outside of the city have seen the return of Iraqi Christians, some of whom continue to fight for their homeland as Da’esh’s influence wanes in the region.

In Qaraqosh, the story of Syriac Catholics standing up to radical extremism has been one of hardship and hope. Syriac priests returning to the community’s Church of the Immaculate Conception found their place of worship, “blackened by fire, [its] alter vandalized,” and its bell tower “disfigured by cannon fire, and the bell itself gone, snatched from its chain.” Additionally, efforts to completely free the town from Da’esh influence have been hindered by the group’s sustained presence in the region; Da’esh has utilized suicide car bombs following the beginning of the Mosul offensive, and the area still sees its fair share of sniper and mortar fire.

However, despite these difficulties, the Qaraqosh community remains resolute in reestablishing their church and defending the community. A local Christian militia, the Nineveh Protection Units, has assisted the Iraqi army in combating terror, manifesting some additional progress in fully liberating the town. Most inspiringly, local religious figureheads were able to affix a makeshift cross to the roof of the church, in addition to leading local militias in worship for the first time since the start of the conflict.

Elsewhere in Nineveh, displaced Christians who fled Da’esh found refuge at the Mar Mattai Monastery northeast of the city. Defended by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Iraqi Christians left both Mosul and areas immediately outside of the city en masse for the monastery, in search of basic necessities and housing. As Da’esh further established itself within northern Iraq from mid 2014 to 2015, Iraqi Syriacs could only wait patiently within the sanctum of Mar Mattai, assisted by monks comprising a 1600 year old community based at the monastery.

With the influx of forces combating Da’esh in the area, local Christians have been able to resettle in the villages surrounding the Alfaf Mountain, where the monastery is based. The peace remains tenuous at the best, with the community occasionally needing to defend itself from encroaching Da’esh fighters; however, while the entirety of the Syriac population has yet to return, many have reestablished themselves within their ancestral homeland.

While optimism prevails within these enclaves north of Mosul, refugees living outside of Iraq often feel differently about returning. Some Christian refugees living in Amman, Jordan, resolutely refuse to ever return to Iraq, seeking asylum in countries like Australia. According to one mother, “we paid the price and I don’t want to go back in a few years and go through it again.” Despite the progress of the United States-Iraqi coalition, IDPs and refugees will undoubtedly live with the legacy of Da’esh for years to come.

By Connor McInerney

Photo Credit: The Daily Beast

cvj_dhlwiaawapyIn efforts to completely annihilate polio around the world and mark the commemoration of World Polio Day, two United Nations agencies have partnered with the Iraqi Ministry of Health to launch a week-long nationwide campaign to immunize Iraqi children against the rampant viral disease. Promoting the slogan “two drops can change a life”, the campaign will attempt to vaccinate an estimated 5.8 million Iraqi children below the age of five.

Directly attacking the nervous system, polio remains a highly infectious viral disease targeting the global youth population. Young children especially below age five, remain at high risk for the rampant disease. With immediate and effective vaccinations worldwide, the eradication of polio proves both possible and likely in the next decade.

UNICEF Iraq Representative Peter Hawkins affirmed Iraq’s national strides to eliminate polio stating that,“The Government of Iraq is committed to polio eradication, and conducted 16 campaigns to that end in 2014 and 2015 as part of the Middle East Polio Outbreak response.” Immense progress has been made on Iraq’s vaccination frontier in the past two years. As of April of 2014, no new polio cases have been reported. In May of 2015, Iraq was then removed from the world’s list of active polio infected countries.

Although polio remains rampant across several countries in the Middle East including Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iraq has remained a pioneer for the complete and total eradication of this infectious disease. The Iraq Polio Partnership has conducted 2 national immunization rounds in February and April of this year. These attempts at total vaccination coverage, reached over 91% of the Iraqi population.

Combating possible resurgence in the country, the Iraqi Ministry of Health will target and focus specifically on vulnerable populations of children residing in Internally Displaced Persons and Syrian Refugee Camps, informal settlements, affected communities, and retaken areas. This month’s campaign will mobilize more than 25,000 vaccinators, traveling house to house, visiting  with and vaccinating young children. Complicating efforts to aid at-risk youth, conflict has limited vaccination progress within high-risk populations. Making strides to end polio globally, Iraq has succeeded in maintaining high levels of vaccination coverage and surveillance across the country, especially in these war-ridden regions.

By KaLynn Wood

Photo Credit: UNICEF

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