The Kingdom’s generosity

By: Arab News

Iraq is in turmoil for reasons that are all too tragically clear. But dwelling on its eight years of misgovernment under Premier Nuri Al-Maliki and the tragic list of missed opportunities, is not of itself going to affect the plight of millions of ordinary Iraqis, betrayed by the political leadership that was supposed to be their country’s salvation.

It is estimated that some 1.2 million people have already been displaced by the Iraqi violence. These people have fled their homes and businesses taking only what they can cram into a vehicle alongside members of the family. Their desperate search for safety mirrors the horrors experienced by Syrians who have escaped the savage conflict brought about by Bashar Assad’s attempt to bludgeon his own people into submission.

Just over a week ago, the United Nations said that it was tripling its Iraq appeal to the international community for humanitarian funding.

It said that it now needed more than $312 million to help sustain over one million people who have been impacted by the violence as ISIL forces have overrun large swathes of the country.

Saudi Arabia has demonstrated its own deep concern at the plight of ordinary Iraqis by itself pledging no less than $500 million toward the UN appeal. Announcing this substantial contribution, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah said that the money should be used to help all the people of Iraq, including those displaced by the fighting, regardless of their religion, sect or ethnicity.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the donation and praised the Kingdom’s substantial generosity. For the UN’s humanitarian aid effort in Iraq to be boosted in one fell swoop by no less than half a billion dollars is certainly impressive.

However, the gift carries with it certain risks. One concern has to be that other countries, seeing that the UN’s request for contributions has already been exceeded, may themselves decide to sit on their checkbooks. This would be a mistake. In calculating the amount of funding to request from the international community, UN planners will have been trying to balance the likely response with the most pressing demands of Iraqi refugees.

It is obvious that there is going to be a longer-term requirement for UN aid to sustain innocent victims of the conflict. Therefore it is imperative that other countries pledge realistic amounts of aid to allow UN agencies to plan their assistance further down the line. The Kingdom’s substantial gesture must not be used as an excuse to give nothing.

The UN meanwhile says that its people on the ground in Iraq are already facing severe difficulties in reaching all those people who require support. The creation of humanitarian corridors has been proposed to allow aid workers to move freely between concentrations of refugees.

Unfortunately, as has been proven with similar schemes in Syria, such corridors represent a serious challenge. The Assad government, which has been pursuing a policy of starving out areas of the country under rebel control, has deliberately obstructed the creation of aid corridors.

It seems highly unlikely that the terrorists of ISIL are going to be any better disposed toward the free movement of UN aid personnel in the larger areas of Iraqi territory that they now control.

There is a further risk alluded to by the king in announcing the $500 million donation. This is that the funds must be used entirely for the purpose for which they were donated. Even the UN, to say nothing of NGOs in other conflict zones, have discovered that shipments of food and medicine have been hijacked by the combatants on one side or the other. To this end the king has said that Saudi Arabia will monitor very closely the disbursement of aid that it has funded. This may be easier said than done. Nevertheless the Kingdom will rightly demanded to see a paper trail that accounts for the food, medicine and other essentials that have been purchased with its gift.

The misery inflicted by the entirely avoidable conflict in Iraq seems unlikely to end any time soon. The Middle East is now awash with refugees. By some estimates, more than 10 million people have now fled fighting in Syria and Iraq.

In Syria the Kingdom’s financial assistance has extended beyond the day-to-day support of refugees. One of the greatest tragedies of life in refugee camps is the psychological damage inflicted by the hopelessness that so many inmates feel. Saudi Arabia has been to the fore in caring for the mental as well as the educational needs of Syrian refugees. Sadly it seems that this major effort will now have to be repeated in Iraq.







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