Coordination Intricacies in Iraq

An introduction to Mine Action and Beyond in Iraq

Out of the 36 million people who currently live in Iraq, 11 million live in conflict-affected areas. Of those, approximately two million are estimated to still be Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). January 2018 marked a particular turning point in Iraq’s internal displacement crisis. For the first time since 2014, the number of people returning to their area of origin exceeded the number who remain displaced. However, these returns are not occurring uniformly across the country and the majority of IDPs in Iraq reside outside of formal camps, presenting logistical challenges to both the Government of Iraq and the humanitarian community who are trying to help.

However, these returns are not occurring uniformly across the country and the majority of IDPs in Iraq reside outside of formal camps, presenting logistical challenges to both the Government of Iraq and the humanitarian community who are trying to help.

It is crucial to understand the barriers posed to safe, sustainable, dignified and voluntary returns of all IDPs, so that appropriate support can be provided. The main reasons cited by IDPs for not going home include security concerns, lack of livelihoods or financial means, destroyed houses, and explosive hazards.

The World Bank estimates that approximately 130,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed across all liberated areas. Such houses could contain various forms of explosive hazards, such as Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

According to an assessment carried out in 2018, on average across affected areas 22% of IDPs in camps cite explosive hazards as a top reason for not intending to return to their areas of origin, however this is up to 52% in some governorates; on average 12% of out-of-camp IDPs cite the same. Those who do choose to return, do so in potentially unsafe environments contaminated by explosive hazards. There is a shortage of qualified operators to clear private houses, so the demand far exceeds the supply.

Across liberated areas, explosive hazard contamination prevents access of humanitarian actors and delivery of assistance to people in need; hinders safe and sustainable returns of IDPs, often resulting in secondary displacement and occupation of others’ properties; impedes resumption of livelihoods and access to agricultural and grazing lands and irrigation systems; and obstructs access to community infrastructure and basic services including schools, water facilities, hospitals, electrical stations, and roads.

Humanitarian mine action follows and abides by four key principles, namely neutrality, impartiality, humanity, and independence. It does not pursue political, economic, or any other specific interest-driven agenda but seeks to provide interventions to most vulnerable populations, providing much needed support to alleviate humanitarian suffering.

In complex environments such as Iraq, humanitarian actors, and the international community, acknowledge the ‘nexus’ between humanitarian response and other work such as stabilization, or development.  There is an intricate entwining of the work that has been done by humanitarian partners during the conflict and the work done by the Government and UN to stabilize post-conflict which results in all actors seeking support from mine action organizations, sometimes to have the same school, or the same health facility cleared of explosive hazards. Whether a school is requested to be cleared of explosive hazards by humanitarian actors or by stabilization actors, the objective is the same, to allow children to return to school.

Globally, the UN system has established a coordination mechanism to help channel humanitarian support to the most vulnerable populace. This is often referred to as the “Cluster Approach” and in an affected country, the UN establishes a ”Cluster” coordination structure that encompasses the Mine Action Area of Responsibility (MA AoR).

UNMAS is the global lead of the MA AoR, supported by the UNMAS Geneva office, and the in-country lead of the Mine Action Sub-Cluster (MASC). The UNMAS Geneva office supports Iraq mine action activities by advocating for the provision of necessary funding and resources to mine action activities in Iraq, supporting media campaigns, and providing technical support to the staff in-country in charge of navigating the “Cluster Approach”.  The Geneva office also supports the MASC coordinator to attend global forums and conferences in Bangkok, Amman or Geneva to engage with other country-specific MASC and identify global issues and common concerns.

In Iraq, the MASC was established under the UN Cluster System in 2016, to support the UN Humanitarian response during the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Da’esh. As such, the MASC focuses on enabling support to the most vulnerable populations in areas prioritized for humanitarian response, specifically IDPs living in camps and outside camps scattered across Iraq.

The MASC, under the umbrella of the Protection Cluster, brings together Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), UN Agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and academic institutions to help mitigate humanitarian crises. In Iraq, the members comprise six national NGOs (Baghdad Organization, Iraqi Health and Social Care Organisation  [IHSCO], Maysan Organisation, Mine and UXO Impact Relief [MIR], Orchard Association for Children Protection and Education [OACPE], Spirit of Soccer), eight international NGOs (Dan Church Aid [DCA], Danish Deming Group [DDG], Swiss Foundation for Mine Action [FSD], HALO Trust, Handicap International [HI], Information Management and Mine Action Programs [iMMAP], Mines Advisory Group [MAG], Norwegian People’s Aid [NPA]), two UN agencies (UNICEF and UNMAS), and the ICRC.

Having 17 mine action organizations in Iraq working together to support the most vulnerable people in need under humanitarian objectives requires strong coordination, with partners and the Government of Iraq.

In addition to conducting ad hoc emergency meetings when necessary, the MASC holds a monthly meeting to discuss needs, issues and challenges, solutions and advocacy strategies, and resource mobilization in order to coordinate and streamline across organizations. The MASC, with the objective to achieve targets in two primary planning documents, the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) and Humanitarian Response Plan (HRO), uses guidelines set forth by the aforementioned documents to ensure the response is supporting the most vulnerable.   

The MASC coordinator also holds an important role to represent all members of the sub-cluster, advocate on their behalf and link them to other humanitarian organizations requesting support. In order to do this better, the UNMAS MASC coordinator in Iraq has visited partners around Iraq to gain a full understanding of operational challenges and successes. In October, the MASC coordinator visited FSD, NPA, UNMAS and IHSCO operations in the Ninewa Governorate. These four organizations highlighted the challenges they are facing on the ground as well as their achievements. This initiative will continue in the next coming months and the MASC coordinator has planned to visit all the NGOs operations. This will not only allow the MASC coordinator to stay up to date but also acquire a deeper understanding in order to better represent the concerns of both national and international organizations. 

Given the amount of work and large geographic coverage, the UNMAS MASC coordinator is supported by a newly identified Arabic-speaking co-coordinator from NPA, who will be based in Baghdad and focus specifically on helping national NGOs access coordination mechanisms, when language is frequently a barrier.  

UNMAS has provided a presentation on gender mainstreaming in Mine Action in Iraq to MASC members and circulated among them the UN gender guidelines for programmes in Mine Action in English and Arabic. This initiative was completed by sharing a training toolkit on gender and diversity in Mine Action, and technical assistance on the same topic delivered to all UNMAS implementing partners that are also MASC members.

Protection remains the overarching humanitarian priority for 2019. The importance of a safe, voluntary, and dignified return of displaced people cannot be understated if Iraq is to thrive post Da’esh.

Displaced people within in-camp and out-of-camp settings continue to depend on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. Given the high number of in-camp and out-of-camp IDPs, along with the risk of secondary displacement and potential on-going conflicts, there is a need for the provision of targeted and customized risk education (RE) to vulnerable populations, alongside the aid workers who support them. MASC organizations prioritize the provision of RE to in-camp and out of camp IDPs; in addition, UNMAS delivers awareness sessions to humanitarian actors working in areas contaminated by explosive hazards. In 2018, over 250 humanitarian actors across UN Agencies and NGOs have participated in the sessions.

Camp closure and consolidation is of particular concern to the MASC members, especially given the extent of explosive hazard contamination. Furthermore, out-of-camp IDPs are also vulnerable to being moved. In addition to the camps, these informal settlements are important, since they host a large number of IDPs. The MASC coordinator has been informed of incidents where IDPs returned and were injured by explosive hazards. Moving forward, the MASC and the Shelter Cluster will increase coordination in this regard and will work to identify the camps and informal settlements that need to receive urgent RE.  

A need for collaboration with UN Habitat has also been identified. Among IDPs surveyed across Iraq, around 41% of out-of-camp IDPs and around 35% of in-camp IDPs cited housing, land and property (HLP) issues as a primary reason for not returning to their areas of origin. This includes damage and destruction, secondary occupation, and lack of proof of ownership. Because damaged houses are likely to be contaminated by explosive hazards, the MASC led by UNMAS and the HLP sub-cluster led by UN Habitat have started to work closely together. This collaboration will be strengthened in the near future with the commencement of residential area clearance. On a global level, the MA AoR and HLP AoR under the lead of the Protection Cluster are currently working together on developing the HLP-MA guidelines pertaining to conflict damaged or destroyed houses and residential clearance.

Victim Assistance for survivors of explosive hazard accidents and their family members is one of the five pillars of Mine Action, and  is also an under-funded sector in Iraq. In 2013, Iraq introduced the Law of the Care for Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs, which replaces all existing disability legislation in Iraq. Although the document is robust, it contains no specific reference to survivors of explosive hazard accidents or those who have suffered a disability as result of the conflict.

The MASC alongside the Protection Cluster in Iraq work together to support the most vulnerable people in need as defined per their humanitarian objectives. Such complex support necessitates a strong coordination effort between the MASC members and their stakeholders. It is crucial to ensure that such efforts generate a response plan that accounts for all components to fulfill the predetermined objectives, including resource allocation and management, funding, and personnel support.

The MASC is dedicated to work alongside its partners to ensure that its mandate of ensuring the voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified return of all IDPs is fulfilled in Iraq. The MASC is also committed to integrate gender aspects in Mine Action operations in Iraq.

In 2019, the MASC, in collaboration with other Protection cluster actors, will focus on supporting  community-based protection responses, including: dissemination of information essential for IDPs to make informed decisions on returns and other durable solutions, including “Know Before You Go” and HLP messaging, as well as pre-departure explosive hazard RE and provision of RE in the areas of origin.


· Multi-Cluster Needs Assessment (MCNA VI) led by the Assessment Working Group and facilitated by REACH, September 2018

· Landmine Monitor, Iraq, updated October 2018

· iMMAP Iraq, 2018

· UNICEF, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children

·  “Iraq Reconstruction & Investment”, Part II, Damage and Needs Assessment of Affected Governorates, World Bank Group, January 2018.

Photos: UNMAS/Cengiz Yar