An Increasingly Lonely Pursuit – March 2005
As Spring approached I had left my assignment in Iraq, briefly, to attend an NGO (Non Governmental Organization) meeting in Amman, Jordan.
I guess that there had been about 30 organizations represented. They were the NGOs which had operations in Iraq. Of that number, only three allowed that they still had expatriate management inside Iraq. Others in attendance claimed that while they had evacuated the international staff, their national staff was still, one way or another, able to deliver needed ‘goods and services.’
Afterward, out in the hallway, a representative of a colleague agency had told me, “If you want to know what's happening with NGOs in Iraq, you really have to be in Amman.”
An epiphany of sorts for me who had just, recently, been in the company of my staff close by the Iranian border with daily forays into the Shia heartland and into the Sunnite Triangle. It appeared that we few still on the ground were no longer relevant to the debate within the NGO community.
I had come out of the meeting feeling more vulnerable than I had a day earlier. The fewer we were, the higher we rose as a soft target for what Prime Minister Alawi referred to as the “dark forces.” I immediately called my folks to cancel their upcoming meetings in Hillah and in Kirkuk, arguing that henceforth only the highest value meetings would warrant expat exposure on the roads south and into central Iraq.
That is how the “dark forces” began to win. In August of 2003, they took out the U.N. staff at Canal Street and the U.N. has not come back. A year later they took away the two Simona's from their offices in Baghdad and nearly all the remaining NGOs took the Beechcraft to Amman.
This is how it continued as the Shias sought to form a government. The international media clustered in a few fortified hotels, the dark forces analyzing Western ‘vulnerabilities’ internationally, a Sergio blown up, two Simona's snatched, then media dispatches suffused with “Into the Abyss” and “Spiraling into Hell” thus leaving the larger part of Iraq, which was neither ‘spiraling’ or ‘descending’, without the indispensable ‘goods and services’ of those who would help.
It had become text book. Kill or kidnap a visible sign of relief or development and the rest scatter, leaving a population whose fundamental yearnings for a just society became increasingly ignored, prey to dark forces.
Upon my return, my team and I had gathered where we live for one of our periodic meetings. At the end of the two day discussion and debate on program, we got to the principal issue.
Everything did, in fact, boil down to “threat versus mission” - interpreted to mean how each of us did that rough calculation of the value we were providing the Iraqi people as measured against the threat to our lives.
For the threat, it had increased since the January 2005 elections and would probably continue to do so as the new interim government tried to form and as Americans began more and more to consider the American mid-term election. At the core of the contest would be whether the “dark forces” could garner enough broadcast media time to rattle the original presumptions of Western Civilization even further and thus produce a further diminution of those human-centered investments, so yearned for by a population that knew no such surcease during the preceding ‘reign of terror’.
Or, alternatively, whether there was enough constancy of resolve in Western capitals to stay the course for the benefit of those benighted folk who had moved bravely through one bloody election and who would need to move through two more in the intervening nine months.
And, to improve that self-same course dramatically since the current trickle of assistance now emanating from the Green Zone would not turn sufficient “hearts and minds” to preclude the abyss, referenced by the media. And further, even if the trickle moved to stream, it would not be effective if it was dispensed and managed from the very medieval current paradigm of American fortresses from whence brave emissaries emerged with their coterie of shooters to make occasional and often ill-advised investments.
No, that, we had agreed, my teammates and I, was indeed the rough calculation of our value added. That whether through our platforms for learning, sports and connectivity programs in south central where we were transforming despair to hope for teenagers, or whether through our efforts to provide salve for the estimated 50,000 displaced in Diyala province - at a minimum, we were arriving as partners to the population.
And so, the team had debated this. The growing threat against our somewhat modest investments in transformation and salve. Good folk struggling with the imponderables almost daily. Some committing through the current grants at the end of the summer, others of us hoping to see it through the referendum in October - and the final election at the close of the year.
(Above photo: Nicholas Berg and the "Dark Forces" at work)
This is the tenth post in a series on how Foreign Assistance really happens, taken from the perspective of a manager for one of the large organizations which are typically granted or contracted Federal funds for Relief and Development Overseas.
Copyright © 2011 | Bridging the Divide