International NGO Safety Organisation
Destroyed building in northern Iraq. Credit: F. Vergnes/INSO

How has the safety and security landscape changed in Iraq?

“The safety and security landscape in Iraq has changed beyond recognition since INSO started working here in 2014,” explains Daniel Potts INSO’s Country Director in Iraq.

Since the retaking of significant swathes of the country from ISIS by Iraqi and Coalition forces four years ago, the direct threats to humanitarians and the general population has significantly reduced.


The threat has however not been completely eliminated as the attack in Baghdad in July 2021 which killed at least 30 people demonstrates (BBC).


Humanitarian needs across the country also remain high.


Over four million people in Iraq are currently in need of aid and 1.2 million people are still internally displaced (OCHA). Many internally displaced people remain in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, even as the majority of camps in Federal Iraq were closed in 2019 and 2020, leaving people with nowhere to go and often leading to increased community tensions.


COVID-19 has brought both a health crisis and deepened the economic crisis in country as it disrupted livelihoods, especially for the most vulnerable.

Ongoing risks

The significant humanitarian and longer-term development needs across Iraq means there remains a large NGO community throughout the country.


“Although they are now more nuanced, security risks do remain in Iraq for NGOs and our teams have already recorded more than 6,000 conflict incidents in the country this year.” says Potts. “It’s important for organisations and their staff to remain alert and maintain high safety standards.”


“In particular NGOs are at threat from landmines and unexploded ordinance which have been left behind by the decades of conflict. In 2021, we have already sadly seen the death of one NGO worker and the injury of another as the result of legacy IEDs.”

INSO staff in Dohuk, Iraq facilitate an NGO roundtable. Credit: F. Vergnes/INSO

INSO staff in Dohuk, Iraq facilitate an NGO roundtable. Credit: F. Vergnes/INSO

In 2020, INSO recorded 21 NGO incidents in Iraq, down from a peak of 98 incidents recorded in 2018. Between January and August 2021, the country saw eight NGO incidents, including the IED incidents.


Potts explains further: “Incidents and risks are not evenly distributed across the country. We know that in areas once controlled by ISIS such as Ninawa there are many legacy IEDs, whilst in the large urban centres with significant aid worker communities, such as Erbil and Baghdad, general and sometimes violent criminality and harassment can be a greater issue.”


“In Anbar and some other central-southern governorates there is a legacy presence of multiple, competing armed groups, who both cooperate and compete with state security forces. And then throughout the country community and inter-group tensions can also negatively impact NGOs and their ability to operate.”



Supporting NGOs

INSO teams currently support 204 humanitarian organisations in Iraq.


“Our team provides support across all of Iraq’s 19 governorates with the aim of improving the safety of aid workers,” explains Potts. “INSO also works closely with OCHA to support and bolster NGOs access and coordination alongside strengthening the broader security landscape for NGOs.”

“Through our training work in particular we are helping to build the capacity and professionalise the security work of NGOs in areas such as safety management. Soon we will start to deliver a humanitarian negotiations training which will be key as access can remain such a large issue for many organisations.”


Potts adds: “We are currently working on an outreach campaign for smaller local organisation who might not yet be registered. It’s very important to us that we are able to provide services to those organisations who do not have their own dedicated security resources and would therefore benefit greatly from our work.”


Vadar Mustafa, Sector Manager for Dohuk and north-east Ninawa for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) explains the support he has received: “I’ve worked with INSO for a long time. We trust INSO because it is a single organisation that focuses on safety and security.”


INSO's staff walk through a demined field near Dohuk, Iraq with a MAG staff member.

INSO’s staff walk through a demined field near Dohuk, Iraq with a MAG staff member. Credit. F. Vergnes/INSO


“We know that INSO understands the issues that we face and will help us to continue to work in Iraq. They help us to understand how and where we can do our activities or not. Usually, we can operate normally but we always pay close attention to the reports we get from INSO to make sure we are keeping our staff safe.”


Mustafa concludes: “INSO is important for the whole humanitarian community here in Iraq.”


INSO has been working in Iraq since 2014 and covers the whole country with its services. INSO Iraq is gratefully funded by USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Aid (BHA), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC).