KANSAS CITY, Kansas — In July 2021, President Biden announced that the U.S. Military will end its “combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021.” While the U.S. combat mission will soon end, Iraq is still struggling to maintain a large displaced person population, overcome COVID-19 and stabilize the country’s political and economic future. Thus, humanitarian assistance to Iraq from the international community still plays a crucial role in supporting economic development and political stability for impoverished and displaced Iraqis.
The Humanitarian Situation in Iraq
Iraq had officially declared victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) by December 2017. The war between Iraq and its allies against ISIS officially lasted from 2014 to 2017. It had been a key driver of the large population of displaced persons in Iraq. According to information from the International Organization of Migration, by November 2018, combat against the Islamic State had displaced six million Iraqis. The equates to 15% of Iraq’s total population. Thus, the war resulted in “the worst displacement crisis in the history of Iraq.”
The COVID-19 pandemic along with subsequent lockdowns, curfews and movement restrictions increased unemployment, further exacerbating the preexisting humanitarian crisis in Iraq. While COVID-19 decreased wages for people across Iraq, about 25% of employed internally displaced persons (IDP) lost their jobs temporarily. Iraqi IDPs are particularly vulnerable to the wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, movement restrictions resulted in IDPs having a harder time accessing aid from government agencies and international organizations during the pandemic.
Lastly, a rise in the price of key food staples along with a devaluation of the Iraqi dinar has forced Iraqi households to cope with a surge in the price of food, leaving 2.5 million Iraqis food-insecure. Consequently, about 1.2 million persons are internally displaced in Iraq while 4.1 million Iraqis require humanitarian aid in some capacity.
United States Assistance
In an effort to limit the hardship faced by displaced families in Iraq, “the U.S. State Department announced $155 million in additional humanitarian assistance” to Iraq. Primarily, the package aims to supply food, water, shelter and hygiene services to Iraqis displaced inside and outside of Iraq. The package dedicates funds to provide displaced Iraqis with access to legal, healthcare and education services.
Additionally, the Biden administration recently announced that the United States will supply Iraq with 500,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines through COVAX. The U.S. pledge to support Iraqis that conflicts have displaced builds on USAID’s efforts to boost Iraqi private sector development and decrease the country’s dependence on oil exports, which accounts for 90% of the Iraqi Government budget.
US Troop Drawdown
The U.S. pledge to boost humanitarian assistance to Iraq comes as the U.S. Military plans to further drawdown forces in the country. During the July 26, 2021 summit between President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the President announced that the United States will end the combat mission in Iraq. President Biden’s announcement comes after Prime Minister al-Kadhimi stated, “There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil.”
Furthermore, Iraq’s Prime Minister asserts that the Iraqi Armed Forces can successfully conduct missions to root out the remnants of the Islamic State without the accompaniment of U.S. Forces. The remaining 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq will focus on advising and assisting the Iraqi Armed Forces with an emphasis on counter-terrorism operations.
Al-Kadhimi has been the prime minister of Iraq since May 2020. He assumed office after months of protests against government corruption, poor public service delivery and high unemployment. Over a year into al-Kadhimi’s premiership, Iraqi demonstrators are increasingly concerned with intimidation and violence by government-linked militias against Iraqi protesters. Consequently, as Iraq will hold national parliamentary elections in October 2021, Iraqi reform candidates are pushing for the international community to monitor the upcoming parliamentary election and call out any violations or tampering.
Therefore, in May 2021, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution allowing the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to observe the October elections and analyze the quality of the elections. Thus far, the United States, Japan, Germany and France have provided millions worth of financial support to monitor the upcoming elections while also building Iraq’s ability to hold credible and fair elections.
While the U.S. will no longer play a large role in ensuring security in Iraq, the international community can still play a role in supporting the Iraqi electoral process. In the upcoming election, the U.N. has the responsibility to note any fraudulent or unfair election activity. Moreover, humanitarian assistance to Iraq has the potential to strengthen Iraq’s economic recovery and political stabilization following violence and pandemic-induced devastation.
– Zachary Fesen