Monday, September 18, 2006

The UK starts to abandon the war for "hearts and minds" in favour of "The War"

New Statesman carried this report regarding cuts in humanitarian aid to NGOs in Iraq.

"Reportage: Humanitarian cutbacks: the scandal in Iraq
Rageh Omaar
Monday 18th September 2006

As I sit down to write this article on 11 September 2006, I am less than five minutes' walk from the former Green Line, which divided the city of Jerusalem in half before the Six Day War in 1967. No 1 Road, as it is still called, was the ceasefire line that marked the international border running through Jerusalem between Israel and Jordan which was agreed after the creation of the Jewish state.

After the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jeru salem and the rest of the West Bank, which was ruled by Jordan. Today, the road is a large boulevard but it is still considered to be the unofficial dividing line between the Arab and Jewish halves of Jerusalem. On one side of the road you see ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose neighbourhoods and communities begin on the western side of No 1 Road; on the other, you see Palestinians making their way from their shops or restaurants towards "their side" of the city.

Outside of New York and Washington, this is perhaps the most apt place to reflect on what has happened in the world, and particularly the Middle East, these five years since the attacks of 9/11. Walking along No 1 Road, it feels and looks like a microcosm of the division that now runs through the Islamic world and the west. As with No 1 Road, there is no formal border, nothing you can point to that shows a dividing line. Yet psychologically, emotionally, economically and spiritually it is there: an ever-widening chasm between peoples who are suspicious, fearful and sometimes contemptuous of each other. It should never have been like this and it wasn't, before 11 September 2001.

Five years on, the "war on terror" cannot be defined by policies based on the economic reconstruction and social and political rehabilitation of the failed states and dictatorships where extremist ideology thrives. It cannot point to any significant increase in free access to healthcare and education, or to local institutional development in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Palestinian territories. Today, the war on terror can only be defined (as it is by its central architect, George W Bush) as a military and security operation against militants and terrorists. It is increasingly detached from the human dimension of the societies where the war on terror is being fought.

There are many reasons for this. But there is one main factor that explains why the war on terror turned from being a potentially holistic vision in the wake of 9/11, one where development and reconstruction were at least part of the rhetoric, to being a counter-terrorism operation based on military and security campaigns.

Both the United States and the UK, almost invisibly to the public gaze and largely uncommented on by the mainstream media, have cut back direct funding and support for humanitarian operations, especially in Iraq. This has happened to such an extent that even "hearts and minds" initiatives are now framed largely within a military rather than a humanitarian context. As a result, "hearts and minds" is about more visible military patrols in neighbourhoods rather than more well-stocked mobile clinics or western-supplied schools.

The Amar International Charitable Foundation is one such victim of a decision to cut funding. It is a tiny organisation, run by Iraqis on the ground. No western NGO comes anywhere close to its level of grass-roots presence inside Iraq. It is something that it has taken Amar many years of trust to build up. The key to its success and legitimacy is that it employs only Iraqi nationals, drawn from the populations it is serving. It was originally established in 1991 to provide humanitarian relief to the victims of that year's uprisings, following the first Gulf war, in both northern and southern Iraq.

Because it was run by Iraqi doctors and medical staff, it was the ideal vehicle for a number of United Nations agencies to use to provide essential healthcare, education, clean water and sanitation to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced peoples. After the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003, it established itself immediately in three provinces where, because of the trust it had built up over the previous 12 years, it was able to get to work more quickly and efficiently than any other foreign NGO starting from scratch.

Today, in southern Iraq, Amar operates nine primary healthcare centres serving a combined area population of 130,000. It also operates a highly successful adult literacy programme in rural areas of south-eastern Iraq, employing 80 teachers across 40 villages. As a result, 2,400 men and women have for the first time been taught to read and write. There are many other such programmes, and there is simply no other NGO providing them.

Incredibly, all of this may now be coming to an end. Why? Because the funding that the Amar Foundation relied on from the British government's Department for International Development is being brought to end. And how much money is involved? A couple of hundred thousand pounds a year.

And we wonder how we have come to this.

This article first appeared in the New Statesman."

So, having invaded Iraq and bombed the shit out of it, we are now going to abandon its people to their fate. As if we didn't know that that would be its fate about a year after we went in. Tak about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jesus!

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