CIVIC’s founder Marla Ruzicka went to Iraq in 2003 advocating on behalf of Iraqi civilians who had been killed or injured during US military operations. Soon after, the US military began providing condolence payments to Iraqi civilians whose family members had been accidentally killed or injured during operations. After Marla was killed in Baghdad in 2005, the US Congress created the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund, which provides vocational trainings and start-up grants to Iraqi war victims.

CIVIC returned to Iraq in 2014 as anti-ISIS operations began. We began engaging the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to ensure best practices on civilian harm mitigation are incorporated during operations. We travelled across Iraq as areas were being retaken from ISIS, raised concerns about the impact of operations on civilians by coalition, Iraqi, and Peshmerga forces, and urged improvements to better protect civilians.

Prior to the operations in Mosul, we highlighted protection concerns at a US Congress hearing and began trainings with senior Peshmerga commanders on civilian harm mitigation (CHM).

CIVIC has conducted in-depth research to ascertain the major gaps in knowledge, practice, policies, and trainings on POC (protection of civilians) and CHM within Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Peshmerga forces as well as institutions that support them. These shortcomings were evident in the battle for West Mosul, where ISIS fighters remained entrenched in urban areas and prevented civilians from leaving. While the ISF and anti-ISIS coalition eventually prevailed over ISIS, thousands of civilians were killed and injured, and their homes and key infrastructure were destroyed. CIVIC’s research demonstrates that civilians are still waiting for crucial assistance and compensation from the government to rebuild their lives, as their frustration with the inadequate and cumbersome process grows.

As multi-ethnic Iraq enters a post-ISIS stabilization phase, CIVIC’s work to bolster the capacity of Iraqi and Peshmerga forces to improve protections for civilians becomes ever more essential. CIVIC’s work in Iraq seeks to improve and institutionalize civilian protection policies and practices, including by increasing our engagement at the community level. We engage the National Security Advisor’s office, military staff colleges, and security forces to implement a “train the trainers” method to guiding the civilian protection approaches of the Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga.

Our intervention also captures civilian perspectives on the gaps in protection across Iraq through research and gender-inclusive community-level dialogues with security actors in Kirkuk and Mosul. These dialogues focus on the particular vulnerabilities civilians face in both governorates and the fragile links between communities and state institutions to urge security actors to take action to address those concerns and restore citizens’ confidence in state institutions.

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Image courtesy of Maranie Rae Staab