2017 High School Essay Contest Winning Essay

Winning the Peace in Iraq


Nicholas DeParle: 2017 Essay Contest Winner

TO: Ambassador Douglas A. Silliman
DATE: 3/15/17
RE: Winning the Peace in Iraq


About 4.4 million Iraqis—one in eight—are displaced from their homes (UNHCR, Global Trends 58). With the liberation of Mosul underway as many as a million people could soon swell their ranks (Gladstone). Their precarious circumstance is both a humanitarian disaster and a security threat: a lost generation of Iraqis presents ISIL with a ripe recruiting target. Over the past two years, the United States and its partners at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have created an exemplary program for returning Iraqis to their homes. The Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization (FFIS) has contributed to an effort that has brought home 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq (UNHCR, Iraq Factsheet 1). Our goal for the coming year is to grow that number through a strengthened and expanded FFIS.

I recommend three steps: 1) We must ensure the program remains targeted on basic services like shelter, water, and electricity, which help the most people return quickest; 2) We should use our influence with the FFIS to support and expand its vital de-mining work, without which displaced families cannot safely return; 3) We should renew our diplomatic efforts to secure financial contributions for the FFIS from our Persian Gulf allies.


Iraq’s IDPs—persons forced to flee their homes while remaining in their country—live in perilous conditions. Many lack such basic necessities as clean water, adequate food, sanitation, and electricity (Hassin and Al-Juboori 5). Severe overcrowding is endemic and increases the risk of physical and sexual violence (Hassin and Al-Juboori 17; Beyani 1). An estimated 3 million Iraqi children are not in school, including about 70 percent of IDP children (Hassan and Al-Juboori 5; Beyani 10). Most IDPs lack sufficient access to health care; a cholera outbreak two years ago reached 15 of the 18 governorates (Beyani 9). Sectarian violence is rife. About 60 percent of IDPs have no private income (Hassin and Al-Juboori 19). The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council recently called conditions in some parts of Iraq “apocalyptic” (Ensor and Sadoun).

Virtually all IDPs want to go home, but most face significant barriers, such as the lack of identification papers. Without them, Iraqis are often denied state aid and face restrictions on their movement (Hassin and Al-Juboori 9; Lead Inspector General 60). Yet many IDPs cannot get to government offices or must pay bribes when they do. The ubiquity of landmines poses a second barrier (Hassin and Al-Juboori 10). The premature return of IDPs to Ramadi last year led to 200 deaths due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and forced the military to halt movements (Lang and Al Wari 14).

This displaced population has long posed a threat to American security (Warrick 253). As congressional investigators warned nearly a decade ago, “the presence of hundreds of thousands of angry and idle young men provides potentially fertile ground for extremist ideologies” (U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 4). That observation was prescient then and remains accurate. U.S. presidential envoy Brett McGurk recently warned, “stabilizing areas after ISIL can be even more important than clearing areas from ISIL” (McGurk 6). With a record 65 million displaced persons in the world—24 people a minute are displaced from their homes—success in Iraq could set a global example (UNHCR, Global Trends 2).

Despite formidable challenges, the FFIS is making impressive progress. The program, which began in June 2015, provides flexible funding for short-term projects (less than six months) prioritized by our partners in the Iraqi governorates. It has raised $315 million from international donors, including $115 million from our partners at USAID (UNDP, Funding Facility 9, 57). The program has succeeded by focusing on infrastructure improvements that permit the return to safe shelter, such as restoring electricity and water, clearing roads, and removing IEDs. Emphasizing the return to basic shelter is both cost-effective and theoretically sound: a safe home, however rudimentary, is the foundation on which employment, capacity building, and reconciliation can follow. It is the building block of stabilization.

Proposed Steps:

To continue progress we should take three steps.

  1. Keep the focus on basic services. Targeting basic infrastructure is what makes the FFIS work. We must resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel—or to slow the wagon with excess programmatic baggage. The FFIS can fund four types of projects: public works and infrastructure restoration (including demining), livelihood activities, capacity building, and community reconciliation. All are vital to lasting stability, but the first—getting people re-housed in their communities—provides the context in which the others can best succeed. With basic services restored, clinics and schools reopen. When people fix up their houses and rebuild their communities, they become force multipliers in reconstruction. Last year, most of the FFIS funds went to infrastructure (Lang and Al Wari 10). We should use our seat on the FFIS steering committee to maintain that focus going forward. Engaging with our local partners in the governorates will remain vital in targeting our funds.
  2. Increase demining activities. As we saw in Ramadi, there can be no successful return program without successful demining. The technical expertise exists to do this work, among commercial operators and humanitarian groups, but funding chronically falls short. The United Nations Mine Action Service has collected only 14.5 percent of its proposed $112 million budget this year (UNMAS). Modest investments can go far. After the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $5 million to Janus Global Operations, a private contractor, hundreds of thousands of Ramadi residents safely returned (U.S. Embassy in Iraq, Press Release). We should continue to fund demining from the FFIS, while seeking additional support from PM/WRA. The cost of demining Mosul could be as high as $50 million (Nebebay).
  3. Increase outreach to the Gulf Cooperation Council for funding. Funding is essential to the FFIS’s success. But Saudi Arabia, a key regional player, has not contributed. Kuwait contributed just $2 million. The United Arab Emirates has donated $60 million, but could contribute more (UNDP, Funding Facility 59). The Sunni Gulf states are suspicious of Iraq’s Shia leaders and are wary of corruption (Lang and Al Wari 18). Yet a stable Iraq is clearly in their interest. Middle East experts Hardin Lang and Muath al Wari recently suggested Iraq appoint a “high-level Sunni envoy” to improve outreach to the Gulf States (21). We should work through Washington (our Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs) to encourage Gulf state donations. The recent visit of Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al Jubeir, to Baghdad suggests this is a propitious time to bring our influence to bear (Toumi). Greater burden sharing among our allies is also in line with President Trump’s foreign policy goals.


By focusing on basic infrastructure, the FFIS can help millions more IDPs come home. Once they return, they will need a host of other services: counseling, job-generation, schooling, health care, and reconciliation services such as those provided by the U.S. Institute of Peace. These are vital future steps—and bringing more Iraqis home creates an environment conducive to their success—but it would be a mistake to divert our attention and funding until we bring about more returns. After years of bloodshed and billions of dollars, Iraq is on the verge of winning the war against ISIL. Bringing home the country’s displaced millions is a key to winning the peace.

Works Cited

Online Sources:

Beyani, Chaloka. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons on his mission to Iraq. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 5 Apr. 2016. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Ensor, Josie, and Kamiran Sadoun. “’Unprecedented tidal wave’ of 30,000 fleeing Fallujah creates humanitarian disaster.The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 20 June 2016. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Funding Facility for Stabilization Annual Report 2016. United Nations Development Program, 5 Mar. 2017. United Nations Development Program in Iraq. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Gladstone, Rick. “1.2 Million Iraqis Could Be Uprooted in Mosul Battle, U.N. Says.The New York Times, 23 Aug. 2016. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Hassin, Ahmed, and Mays Al-Juboori. Humanitarian challenges in Iraq’s displacement crisis. Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International, 22 Dec. 2016. Minority Rights Group International. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Iraq Country Summary. United Nations Mine Action Service, United Nations, Jan. 2017. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Lang, Hardin, and Muath Al Wari. After Liberation: Assessing Stabilization Efforts in Areas of Iraq Cleared of the Islamic State. Center for American Progress, 26 July 2016. Center for American Progress. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Nebehay, Stephanie. “Mosul mine, explosives removal could cost $50 million - U.N.Reuters, 6 Feb. 2017. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Operation Inherent Resolve: Report to the United States Congress, October 1, 2016-December 31, 2016. Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations, 31 Dec. 2016. Office of Inspector General. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Toumi, Habib. “Saudi minister in landmark visit to Iraq.” Gulf News, Al Nisr Publishing LLC, 25 Feb. 2017. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

UNHCR Iraq Factsheet - January 2017. UNHCR, Jan. 2017. UNHCR. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 20 June 2016. UNHCR. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

United States, Congress, Senate, U.S.Congress Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Global Efforts to Defeat ISIS (June 28, 2016). Testimony of Brett H. McGurk, Government Printing Office. United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

United States Announces New Assistance to Clear Explosive Hazards in Ramadi.” Embassy of the United States: Baghdad, Iraq, U.S. Department of State, 4 Apr. 2016. Accessed 14 Mar. 2017.

Works in Print:

United States, Congress, Senate, U.S.Congress Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Managing Chaos--The Iraqi Refugees of Jordan and Syria and Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq. Government Printing Office, 2008. 110th Congress, 2nd session.

Warrick, Joby. Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS. New York, U.S.A.: Doubleday, 2015.