CIVIC has advocated assistance to conflict victims in Iraq since our founding in 2003. Our work helped create the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund (named for CIVIC’s founder), the first US-funded program for civilians harmed by US combat operations. The fund helps provide health care and livelihood assistance to civilian victims and their families so they can begin to rebuild their lives and destroyed homes. Over the years, CIVIC has held training and assessment sessions with the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund staff and seen many of our recommendations to USAID and Congress on ways to improve how assistance is delivered implemented.
Civilian protection has deteriorated dramatically with the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS). Militias, government forces, pro-government popular mobilization units, and the anti-ISIS international coalition have also intensified the fight against ISIS. ISIS has committed many atrocities and targeted religious minorities, but pro-government forces have also harmed civilians during operations.
With the US-led coalition targeting ISIS and training Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, we are working to ensure that the coalition has the necessary policies and tools to minimize civilian harm and track, investigate, and make amends during their operations. Our engagement with the coalition at the theater command and headquarters level is ongoing given the challenges in fighting in densely populated areas.
Since the beginning of 2015, CIVIC has been assessing protection issues in areas retaken from ISIS by pro-government forces. We published an article identifying key protection challenges with recommendations on how to effectively address them. We used our research to develop a training module for both Kurdish and Iraqi security forces on protecting communities during operations, and we piloted this training with a group of Peshmerga forces prior to operations to retake Mosul. After east Mosul was retaken by Iraqi forces in 2017 we issued a briefing paper identifying key protection challenges. CIVIC team has visited West Mosul and assessed concerns in how the fight impacted civilians and civilian infrastructure and have identified lessons for operations in Raqqa, Syria and future urban operations.
In 2017, we will be expanding our work with Iraqi forces on civilian protection in areas they are patrolling and providing security and will continue to undertake workshops on protection with Kurdish Peshmerga forces.