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Thursday, October 15, 2009

A “much smaller presence” requires some pretty big answers.

Sitting in a Commons committee room yesterday with the Director General of Policy and Research for our Department For International Development (DFID), Dr Andrew Steer, I could not help feel angry at his dismissive attitude regarding our affairs in Iraq.

After he had finished his piece on the global recession and its effect on the UK’s international development funds, I asked a question regarding our development activity in Iraq. British troops have been officially recalled and the next intuitive step would be to invest in the necessary infrastructure and institutions in order to make Iraq’s resurgence as a sovereign state a lasting and democratic one.

In short, my question was “how, given our official military withdrawal from Iraq, are funds and investments being distributed now to ensure the most vulnerable minorities are being looked after in this time of transition?” What I received in response was a puzzled look and a furrowing of the eyebrows.

Dr Steer brought up the usual doctrine of not interfering with Iraqi sovereignty – which is in line with the current policy of non-interference regarding Iraqi affairs (as if we just took their training wheels off). He claimed that there is little his department could do on a microeconomic level regarding the most vulnerable people within Iraq – something which couldn’t sound more bureaucratic if it tried.

To make matters even more silly, Dr Steer gave me this response in light of the background picture painted previously of an evolving department, second only to the generous Scandinavian states, where old-school bureaucracy was being replaced by fresh-faced efficiency. This “considerably smaller presence” in Iraq, on a development front, cannot be justified given our recent occupation and our historical ties to the state we manufactured and raised since its infancy.

So it is my turn to furrow my eyebrows. Packing up and leaving after our military operations stands out as baffling and irresponsible. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have a budget for special projects undertaken by organisations based in fragile states like Iraq called Quick Response Funds (QRF’s). These help with supplies and services for vulnerable people, such as (but not limited to) proper irrigation, sanitation, rule of law, food distribution, local governance and repair of civic and cultural facilities.

More specifically, in the United States this year, Congressman Mark Kirk (R–IL) helped secure “$20 million for humanitarian and development assistance for religious minorities in Iraq” (here) – something us British lamentably scoff at. All things considered, Dr Steer’s dismissive comments about USAID and his attempt to portray Britain as a shining light in the West were not persuasive, especially from my perspective as an Assyrian.

Regardless, our special responsibility as Britons compels us to fulfil our duty to the indigenous minorities of Iraq as they try and find their place in a fragmented country. Afghanistan will always be the priority for the coalition forces but Iraq cannot be forgotten. As tension between the Kurdish north and the Arab south escalates ahead of the January general election, it is precisely the development of infrastructure, a reliable and diverse police force and proper monitoring bodies that will help the Iraqi people realise a peace they have never known before.

Worryingly, this will all elude them if the issue of Kirkuk and its oil fields is not resolved. We can all turn a blind eye to this, but at our peril.


  1. Not much to say to this other than;
    Are you surprised ?

  2. The pessimist in me says no. But to be honest, I am a little surprised.

    DFID doesn't seem to be as transparant as some other international development departments in the West. What is exposed is very press friendly and streamlined, with no thorough documentation in sight. On one hand, they claim to be pioneering in their organisational structure and implementation techniques, yet on the other, there is little evidence of it being exhibited in the rudimentary stages of a still very fragile post-conflict Iraq. This is irresponsible policy making.

    Of course, I've yet to quiz Dr Steer on the intricate details of his department's presence in Iraq, yet, his disinterest in pursuing it as an issue indicates just how little he can say regarding the matter.

    The purpose of my question was simply to gauge our department's activity in Iraq, not its efforts to help our people - that will come later. What I have gathered is the foot as been taken off the accelerator on our part, but I fear the light will inevitably turn green again as Iraq, in its present condition, will not last as a relatively peaceful sovereign state. Good luck to the people who think that it will.