Iraqi people take water from a humanitarian aid convoy in Amerli, September 1, 2014. File photo: JM Lopez / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A major humanitarian organization warned Tuesday the Islamic State group’s apparent resurgence in Iraq threatens to create “aid deserts” – areas considered too dangerous for NGO workers to cover.
“The rise in insurgency threatens humanitarian operations in parts of Iraq as access and safety are increasingly precarious,” Mercy Crops warned in a statement.
“What we are reading in the media and what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq simply doesn’t add up,” said Tanya Evans, Iraq Country Director for Mercy Corps.
“If anything, extremist groups are growing in confidence. As the reconstruction efforts continue to stall, groups like ISIS are filling the cracks.”
ISIS militants conquered a third of Iraq’s territory in the summer of 2014, even threatening the capital Baghdad. The biggest Iraqi city conquered by the group was Mosul, which was finally liberated by Iraqi, Kurdish, and coalition forces in 2017.
The Iraqi government declared ISIS defeated in Iraq in December that year. However, the group’s resurrection in areas once under its control has concerned the Iraqi government, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the international community, and local residents.
Their presence has been felt in Anbar, Nineveh, Kirkuk, Saladin, Diyala, and the Hamrin mountains.
“In some of the worst-affected areas, we face daily challenges in reaching vulnerable populations. If aid workers can’t reach communities, we face the very real danger of creating aid deserts in areas where the humanitarian needs are overwhelming,” Evans added.
Fierce street fighting and coalition airstrikes devastated the infrastructure of the country’s predominantly Sunni areas, and prompted massive population displacement.
Mercy Crops, which supports peace-building initiatives in Iraq, has called on the international community to invest in programs that will address the deep divisions created over the past 15 years.
There have been almost 2,000 security incidents involving extremist groups since January 1, 2018, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, cited by Mercy Corps.
“The key to tackling this problem isn’t military intervention. It is helping people rebuild their lives,” Evans said. "Alongside physical infrastructure and emergency aid, there needs to be much more investment in peace-building and good governance."
Mercy Corps has been working on the ground in Iraq since 2003.