Case Study: Iraq Part III: Baghdad-Welcome to the Jungle

Baghdad has at least 1 mosque every other sreet the once beautiful city now is covered in religion, bullet holes and concrete

Catalysta: Beatrice Maneshi | Client: SPARK

Catalystas trip to Baghdad Iraq

I was asked by Catalystas’ client organization SPARK to undertake a project scoping, eco-system analysis, and needs inquiry in Iraq. My combined Middle East and North African policy, security, and linguistic expertise and my conflict area development and research background made me an ideal candidate to take on this mission. The case of Iraq is incredibly complex. Therefore, this case study has been broken down into a three-part series, each part exploring one city I visited. This is Part III: Baghdad — Welcome to the Jungle. 

Overview:

The purpose of my inquiry mission was to explore the needs, opportunities, and feasibility regarding the upscaling and expansion of SPARK programs from the northern Kurdistan Region to the rest of the country. I focused, in particular, on the areas of SME development with local partners, youth entrepreneurship, and employment activities for refugees and internally displaced peoples (IDPs) affected by ISIS in Iraq and the ongoing Syrian conflict. For this mission, I combined a needs assessment with eco-system analysis and visited a total of 59 stakeholders. These included local, regional, and national governmental representatives, local and international NGOs, private industry and business associations, startups, higher educational institutions, and potential beneficiary groups (entrepreneurs under the age of 35). Over the span of 13 days, I visited Erbil, Mosul, and Baghdad in order to fulfill my mission and deliver a report containing situational context, analysis, and opportunities for SPARK in the five states affected by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

The main challenge this project presented for me and my team at Catalystas was discovering exactly how SPARK could expand and weave its work into the very fabric of Iraq’s complex operational nature. Each city I visited had a different story, resulting in completely different needs and environments. However, everything remained linked to the still-lingering centralized system of governance. Therefore, it was, and is, imperative that any organization wishing to enter Iraq takes a micro-to-macro perspective regarding the projects they want to implement.

In conducting this mission, three main points became crystal clear with regards to working in the Iraqi context. First, there is no way to do any project in Iraq without the blessing of the respective ministry in charge of whichever sector or group is targeted by the project. Second, working in Iraq is impossible without an understanding of the complex ethno-religious and political divides that affect the project target groups. Knowing how to form the right alliances and connections in order to overcome these tensions and complexities is crucial. Third, there is both a moral and ethical obligation on the part of organizations wishing to enter Iraq to create a viable exit strategy prior to entering the country. Iraq is suffering from severe “NGO fatigue”, a result of years of projects designed to fill gaps made by the central government only in the short term. These temporary projects may ease a situation in the immediate, but in the long term, they suck up funding and opportunities to find sustainable solutions and allow for impactful government uptake.

Baghdad:

Even before entering the city, I received a number of advisory warnings telling me not to go to Baghdad due to the outbreak of protests across the south of Iraq. There was a high likelihood of these protests spreading to the capital, and with them, violent clashes. However, Iraq works on a centralized system, and nothing can be done in the country without  Baghdad. Knowing I had a strong team at home monitoring the situation closely, and confident in the local security team I had assembled, I decided to complete my mission for Spark and ensure I provided the strongest report possible.

As has been outlined in other case studies regarding Iraq, all decisions are made through the central government, by obtaining the blessing of the relevant department. From the field in the rest of Iraq, Baghdad is often described as a jungle. The central government makes no concessions, not for anyone or any project. The levels of bureaucracy form an intimidating cloud of systematic confusion; I heard from multiple business people, NGOs, and semi-governmental institutions stories of paperwork such as business license registrations or educational curriculum changes being lost, sometimes more than once. On top of the difficulties in wading through this bureaucratic ether, Iraq’s sectarian tensions and the high risk of kidnapping and violence have made Baghdad a no-go zone for many Kurds and other ethnic minorities of Iraq.

Baghdad has at least 1 mosque every other sreet the once beautiful city now is covered in religion, bullet holes and concreteIndeed, it seemed there was truth to these claims. Entering Baghdad was more difficult than anywhere else in Iraq I traveled; only after four security checks and a change in vehicle, followed by a drop off at an official meeting point on the outskirts of the city, was I finally able to enter Baghdad proper. I arrived at nightfall, and the streets of the central district of Karada, where the infamous Saddam statue was ripped down after the 2003 US invasion, were empty. The protests of the previous night had triggered the local government to set a curfew, curbing the ability of protesters to take to the streets, as the sweltering summer heat made daytime protests impossible.

My hotel, like every building, from schools to banks to hospitals, came with a checkpoint. This one included a bomb detection dog and armed guards. After having worked in many MENA countries, extra security measures came as no surprise, but this was a whole new level. Ironically, the extreme checks left me feeling less safe in Baghdad than I had in Mosul – the former headquarters of the Islamic State. Throughout my trip in Baghdad, the concrete barriers, army and militia vehicles, armed guards and soldiers, heavy traffic, and general sense of unease in a population burdened by years of suffering and insecurity cast a harsh shadow over the former beauty of the city.

Despite the initial apprehension, my time in Baghdad proved highly worthwhile. I secured audiences with high-level politicians such as Dr. A. Razak j Al-Essa, Minister, and Dr. Fouad Kasim Mohammad, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Not only did they approve of the ideas and concepts I brought to our meetings, but they also provided me with needed documents and information I could not find anywhere online or in public records. Additionally, they supported this initiative, and contributed insights into potential fund matching opportunities for projects in Mosul and the greater Ninawa Province! Fueled by their enthusiasm, my trip shifted from scoping to negotiating partnerships.

Furthermore, I had the chance to meet with other important decision-making bodies and individuals in the Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Agriculture, and Trade and Commerce, as well as diplomatic staff and representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office inside the Green Zone. For both me and the many stakeholders working in other parts of Iraq, these meetings were conductive; all parties were willing to share data, make plans, admit shortcomings, and address gaps.

My experiences of government offices in Baghdad were largely of a broken down system in broken down buildings. Contrary to popular belief in other Iraqi governorates, Baghdad’s officials were not clad in gold and married to corruption. While corruption does play a role in some offices, the majority of leadership and ministries are genuinely underfunded, understaffed, and as badly in need of assistance as the areas and programs they were meant to support.

The last four years of intense conflict saw the majority of funding funneled into military activity. This, topped with the weight of years under Saddam Hussein’s centralized governing system set up in the 1970s, has proved to be too much for the government to handle on its own. It was evident, and even encouraged by various ministries, that the private sector needs to grow and flourish in order to fill the gaps created by a society overdependent on a government that cannot provide as it once did. Luckily for all involved, this is the specialty of our client, Spark.

Naturally, this task is no small feat. Local partner organizations are needed in order to make any kind of SME incubator program, small loans project, job creation program, or higher education redevelopment feasible. This is easier said than done; the US government poured over one billion dollars into Iraq, trying to tackle the ongoing governance and corruption issues, only to find that the problems of regional favoritism, foreign intervention, unbelievable levels of corruption, and multiple ongoing conflicts proved too big a challenge to overcome. The US’ top-down approach failed to secure their foreign interests in Iraq, let alone create a nurturing business environment. Therefore, Cataylstas took a different approach, reaching out at grassroots levels to local organizations and groups already doing outstanding and honorable work on the ground. I met with these groups myself, discussing possibilities and making plans for program designs and implementation.

Entirely arranged by myself and my team at Catalystas with support from local logistical partners, the series of meetings I attended across Iraq proved to be a great achievement. Opening up operations in a nation or region which favors working offline, is plagued by conflict or in post-conflict transition, and is working on basic development is no simple task. The barriers are daunting, and in the case of Iraq, the central government gives the impression of an endless maze filled with monsters. But while it may be difficult, success is never impossible. Where our client Spark struggled in connecting with the right offices and organizations in Baghdad, we created new connections and links, expanding Spark’s network and ability to operate in Baghdad, and consequently, the rest of Iraq.

With the correct kinds of insights, the right local partners, and a crystal clear understanding of the operational environment, one can make a well-informed decision about diving into such a complex – but extremely rewarding – scene. For Spark, and for any other stakeholders considering taking the plunge into Iraq, Catalystas was, and is, more than happy to provide that support. Iraq, on the other hand, is ready and waiting, eager to take the next steps.

To read the other parts of this mission please see:

Part I: KR-I FROM EMERGENCY TO DEVELOPMENT

Part II: Mosul- One Year After ISIS 

[custom_telesto_heading element_tag=”h2″ custom_heading=”Scope of Work”]

Catalystas provided the following the services for Spark:

1. Strategy Building


Project Development

Network Development

Security and Risk Management Planning

3. Project Development


Program Planning and Design

Project Proposal Development

4. Fundraising


Fundraising Strategy, Development, and Planning

Grantwriting

Crowdfunding Planning and Guidance

Donor Follow-Up and Communication Guidance

Case Study: Mosul – One Year After The Islamic State

case study : Mosul by Beatrice Maneshi of Catalystas

Mosul Baghdad one year after ISIS

Catalysta:Beatrice ManeshiClient: SPARK

 

I was asked by Catalystas’ client organization SPARK  to undertake a project scoping, eco-system analysis, and needs inquiry in Iraq. My combined Middle East and North African policy, security, and linguistic expertise and my conflict area development and research background made me an ideal candidate to take on this mission. The case of Iraq is incredibly complex. Therefore, this case study has been broken down into a three part series, each part exploring one city I visited. This is Part II: Mosul and Post ISIS Development.

Overview:

The purpose of my inquiry mission was to explore the needs, opportunities, and feasibility regarding the upscaling and expansion of SPARK programs from the northern Kurdistan Region to the rest of the country. I focused, in particular, on the areas of SME development with local partners, youth entrepreneurship, and employment activities for refugees and internally displaced peoples (IDPs) affected by ISIS in Iraq and the ongoing Syrian conflict. For this mission, I combined a needs assessment with eco-system analysis and visited a total of 59 stakeholders. These included local, regional, and national governmental representatives, local and international NGOs, private industry and business associations, startups, higher educational institutions, and potential beneficiary groups (entrepreneurs under the age of 35). Over the span of 13 days, I visited Erbil, Mosul, and Baghdad in order to fulfill my mission and deliver a report containing situational context, analysis, and opportunities for SPARK in the five states affected by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

The main challenge this project presented for me and my team at Catalystas was discovering exactly how SPARK could expand and weave its work into the very fabric of Iraq’s complex operational nature. Each city I visited had a different story, resulting in completely different needs and environments. However, everything remained linked to the still-lingering centralized system of governance. Therefore, it was, and is, imperative that any organization wishing to enter Iraq takes a micro-to-macro perspective regarding the projects they want to implement. In conducting this mission, three main points became crystal clear with regards to working in the Iraqi context. First, there is no way to do any project in Iraq without the blessing of the respective ministry in charge of whichever sector or group is targeted by the project. Second, working in Iraq is impossible without an understanding of the complex ethno-religious and political divides that affect the project target groups. Knowing how to form the right alliances and connections in order to overcome these tensions and complexities is crucial. Third, there is both a moral and ethical obligation on the part of organizations wishing to enter Iraq to create a viable exit strategy prior to entering the country. Iraq is suffering from severe “NGO fatigue”, a result of years of projects designed to fill gaps made by the central government only in the short term. These temporary projects may ease a situation in the immediate, but in the long term, they suck up funding and opportunities to find sustainable solutions and allow for impactful government uptake.

Mosul:

First of all, it is especially important to note that Mosul is the second largest city in the whole of Iraq. Located in the Ninawa Governorate, it is considered the breadbasket of Iraq, and is a highly educated, previously wealthy, and deeply religious region filled with a colorful cast of minority groups, including Christians, Yazidis, Sunnis, and even a historical Jewish population. In 2014, the war sweeping Syria spilled across the Iraqi borders. With thousands of miles along the Iraqi-Syrian border left unguarded and a weak and unprepared Iraqi Army, the Islamic State quickly moved in, and the city of Mosul fell in only three days. The world’s most organized non-state militia declared Mosul the capital of the Islamic State Caliphate, creating a headquarters where new foreign fighters were inducted, honeymoons were spent, and where the strictest, albeit selective, form of Sharia Law was imposed. For four years, Mosul remained this way. Thousands of people lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The Islamic State committed a multitude of crimes against humanity, genocidal acts, and caused immense human suffering in and around Mosul, until 2017, when coalition forces led by the Iraqi Army began the campaign to liberate Mosul. The Iraqi Army coordinated with local Shabi militias, a network of previously renegade rebels ratified as a legal arm of the Iraqi military in order to coordinate anti-ISIS efforts. However, instead of working together to push ISIS forces back across the border into Syria, the Shabi militias blocked the roads leading back to Syria, and the scattered ISIS fighters became stuck in Mosul. They went underground and recollected in the western “Old City”, using guerilla tactics against the Iraqi Army for the next seven months. Eventually, the army lost patience, and authorized special forces to bombard the Old City.

Mosuls Old City one year after ISIS July, 2018The coalition-led military operations destroyed half of Iraq’s second largest city and displaced an additional 697,974 IDPs to join the already existing 3 million IDPs throughout the country. As I crossed the peshmerga border by taxi, I entered one of the most devastated war zones the world has seen since World War II. Every corner of the city was covered in the rubble of once beautiful buildings and renowned architecture. During my visit, I was able to meet with a variety of major stakeholders, including the University of Mosul, once the most illustrious university both in Iraq and the entire Middle East. There, I spoke with Dr. Obey, President of the university. We discussed opening incubation centers and rebuilding structures while stimulating innovation, a task much more difficult than initially expected by both myself and my client. As stated above, when working in Iraq it is impossible to get anything done without the blessing of the relevant ministry. This includes 10% < changes to curriculums, resulting in outdated teaching methodologies, such as teaching computer coding on paper. This necessary approval makes delivering aid particularly challenging, and is one of the main factors leading to the above described NGO fatigue.

While in the field, I also had the opportunity to meet and facilitate multiple focus groups with various youth groups, between the ages of 18-24 and 25-32. I learned from these meetings that in order to be competitive in today’s job market, local youth are working hard, educating themselves outside of formal education. Their parents are unable to offer much advice, as this is the first generation dealing with a severe lack of government support for job placement post-graduation. It was clear that while Mosul is in desperate need of help, the people of the city are resilient, hopeful, and ready to ignite change. All that is missing is the right investment in the city to provide a spark.

 

One year after the liberation of Mosul from the rule of the Islamic State, there are still dead bodies lying in the streets. The vast majority of the international community, aside from the UNDP and UNHCR, have deemed Mosul too risky to operate in. Ironically, according to security reports released by the Iraqi Army, Mosul is now safer than Baghdad, Najaf, Basra, and Fallujah. At the time of my mission in late July 2018, only a handful of NGOs were present in Mosul. They cited security and competitiveness within the NGO community as the main reasons. This demonstrated to me a severe lack of a coordinated response, contrary to the unified coordination seen in Kurdistan. With the Iraqi Army devastated by the drawn out conflict with ISIS coupled with a massive slump in oil prices, the central government does not have a large enough fiscal budget to cover yearly costs, let alone the financial strain of redevelopment. Unlike in Kurdistan, there was no centrally consolidated working committee like that of the Joint Crisis Cooperative Council (JCC) addressing the necessary relief and redevelopment to Mosul or Ninawa Province. As a result, most NGOs had yet to enter the city, and the few working in the area were only providing immediate humanitarian relief, rather than the badly needed development support.

Little boys making money with donkey pulled carriagesWandering through the city’s streets in the evenings, it was impossible not to notice the many groups of women out and about, something that never would have been allowed during ISIS’ reign. In restaurants, though people were conservative, they were open, smiling, and welcoming – nowhere near as broken as I’d expected to find them. The socio-economic divide between East and West Mosul was clear. Particularly in the West, home to the majority of factories and working-class people, badly damaged by coalition bombardments in the liberation campaign, the basic staples of a functioning city are out of order. The focus now is on transitioning and rebuilding. From speaking to a variety of locals, from shopkeepers to widows working and living in the rubble of their former homes, the international response has not been fast enough. Everywhere I went, I was met with happiness; my presence as a foreigner in the city signaling that perhaps the international community has not given up on Mosul after all.

 

Despite no piece of the city having gone untouched by the fighting – power lines, water, police, and schools still remain missing – the resilience of the people shines through. Life moves on; the question now is at what pace, and who will benefit. In such a vulnerable post-conflict environment, this becomes the most critical factor to take into account: ensuring that corruption and war-profiteering do not take hold.

 

However, it must be noted that for one extraordinarily vulnerable group, there seems to be very little hope: the captured ISIS fighters and their families. They are a population of untouchables, underserved and unwelcome, the wives and children living mainly in the Al Jadaa and Qayah Refugee Camps. Many of these women and children are foreigners, citizens of countries whose governments refuse to repatriate them. They form an extremely high-risk population, which must be addressed as soon as possible by the international community.

While in Mosul, I was able to identify a number of opportunities for Spark to invest in the future of the city, including university programs and incubator spaces. Through promoting a decentralized redevelopment of the higher education system alongside innovative entrepreneurship, I found a variety of ways for Spark to help Mosul lay the building blocks for rebuilding society post-conflict. The gaps in the current system, such as the refusal of the Ministries of Education and Higher Education and Scientific Research to recognize any educational certifications granted under ISIS occupation, mean that there is ample opportunity and need for NGOs such as Spark to step in and support what will otherwise be a lost generation. The ministries and central government, I found, are ready and willing to work with the international community to fill these gaps and return Mosul and other affected areas to their former glory.

Mosul Oldest Coffee Roaster is in district never bombed.

 

Mosul has a long way to go, as do the other formerly occupied areas of Iraq, including Salahaddin, Ninawa, and Anbar. Based on my in-field security analysis, I firmly believe that now is the time for NGOs and international actors to step in and do their part to support the reconstruction and development processes in a long term, sustainable way. Based on this mission and our additional and timely field insights, I and my team at Catalystas have an in-depth understanding of the risks, needs, and networks at a local, national, and international level to ensure effective program implementation. We at Catalystas will  utilize these insights into security, politics, and socio-economic conditions to support the development of other projects and programs for NGOs, CSOs, and international companies that aim to enter Mosul and take part in the reconstruction of post-ISIS Iraq.

For the first piece of this study, please see: Iraq Part I: KR-I From Emergency to Development

To read the final piece of this case study, please see: Part III: Baghdad — Welcome to the Jungle

Catalystas provided the following the services for Spark:

[custom_telesto_heading element_tag=”h2″ custom_heading=”Scope of Work”]

1. Strategy Building


Project Development

Network Development

Security and Risk Management Planning

3. Project Development


Program Planning and Design

Project Proposal Development

4. Fundraising


Fundraising Strategy, Development, and Planning

Grantwriting

Crowdfunding Planning and Guidance

Donor Follow-Up and Communication Guidance