Aid workers face increasing danger in Iraq

VICTORIA (CUP) – More than 93 aid workers have been killed in Iraq and this trend shows no signs of slowing. Two humanitarian aid workers spoke at University of Victoria on Oct. 10 about the mortal danger aid workers face in Iraq. Sheik Anwer Hattab al-Edhari, an Iraqi educator and aid worker, and Greg Hansen, an independent Canadian researcher and author of Taking Sides or Saving Lives: Existential Choices for the Humanitarian Enterprise in Iraq, described the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

VICTORIA (CUP) – More than 93 aid workers have been killed in Iraq and this trend shows no signs of slowing. Two humanitarian aid workers spoke at University of Victoria on Oct. 10 about the mortal danger aid workers face in Iraq.
Sheik Anwer Hattab al-Edhari, an Iraqi educator and aid worker, and Greg Hansen, an independent Canadian researcher and author of Taking Sides or Saving Lives: Existential Choices for the Humanitarian Enterprise in Iraq, described the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
According to Hansen and Edhari, over 93 aid workers have died in Iraq so far and the number will continue to grow as long as the war persists.
Edhari faulted the U.S. Military’s humanitarian campaign for confusing Iraqis and promoting a distrusting of aid workers.
He said that much of the Iraqi population is uneducated and look at neutral aid agencies with suspicion.
“If I was working with the American [aid organizations] and helping people, then know I am, in the eyes of a terrorist, . a spy,” said Edhari, who hails from Baghdad. “Now, they will buy my head. My friends told me, ‘Don’t come back. There are [dangerous] people here and we cannot control them.'”
According to Hansen, many aid workers have been forced to withdraw their staff to the safe “green zone,” a small, military-protected area of Baghdad used as the American base of operations.
As a result, international organizations have a privileged, safe place from which to work and they expect Iraqis to take all the risks.
“It’s not a good way to assist or protect people, but for now it may be one of very few options,” said Hansen, a former United Nations peacekeeper who has worked in conflict situations in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Asia and the Middle East.
Aid agencies that remain in Iraq’s most needy and dangerous areas are removing their identifying marks, such as vehicle logos and flags.
According to Hansen, humanitarianism today requires not just neutrality, but also invisibility: the consequence of being misperceived is too great.
“To be associated with the wrong actors . can be a death sentence for you,” said Hansen.
Humanitarian workers in Iraq must have a high degree of political acuity to be effective, said Hansen. Being able to create and maintain contacts with community and religious leaders might be the best way to deliver aid in a safe manner.
Adrian McIntyre, an aid worker and Oxfam policy adviser with 12 years experience in the Middle East, witnessed the same political problems as Edhari and Hansen.
He said that humanitarian aid has not been effective in reaching long-term goals. At a public seminar on Oct. 11, also at the University of Victoria, McIntyre argued that humanitarian aid is too focused on “adequate, yet temporary responses” to crises.
“The way in which aid has been carried out overseas, one response to the next . is without any strategic thinking,” said McIntyre.
According to McIntyre, humanitarian aid’s biggest success has been as a “Band-Aid response” to world disasters.
In 2004, for instance, agencies from seven countries were able to get hundreds of millions of dollars worth of relief to countries affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami, but the Iraq conflict is entering its fifth year and incoming aid is decreasing.
All three speakers acknowledged that there are no easy answers to providing effective long-term relief.
Edhari suggested any Canadians who want to assist the effort give money toward agencies that help refugees – hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have migrated to Jordan and Syria to escape the armed conflict.
The talks were sponsored by the Peacemakers Trust, the University of Victoria Institute for Dispute Resolution and the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives.

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