One of the basic underlying assumptions of conflict transformation theory is that conflict is an inherent part of development and social change, which has the potential for both constructive and destructive outcomes. Years of experience and research around the world have shown that humanitarian and other aid interventions can exert a positive impact on conflict by a) strengthening mechanisms and resources for managing or resolving differences and b) addressing factors which are causing tension within a given community (i.e., tension which could lead to or is already resulting in violence). However, such initiatives can also produce side-effects, which may negatively impact on conflict dynamics when implemented with insufficient consideration of the context, for instance, deep-seated, pre-existing cleavages within societies. Consequently, such aid initiatives may actually exacerbate inter- or intra-group tensions.
To mitigate this risk, NGOs and UN agencies funding or implementing programmes/projects in Iraq should recognise the importance of conducting aid initiatives with conflict sensitivity. First, conflict sensitivity requires making an explicit effort to gain an understanding of the unique context and conflict dynamics in the target area. Second, the relationship between causes of conflict and programmes/projects in that same area need to be identified and analyzed in order to understand how these factors interact with each other. As such, conflict sensitivity calls for a concerted effort to ensure that humanitarian and development initiatives maximize positive impacts on the amelioration of conflict whilst also 'doing no harm'.
Whether working specifically ON conflict (i.e., to address conflict issues) or IN conflict (i.e., applying a conflict sensitive lens to ensure that programming does not have a negative impact on the conflict at hand), assistance and relief actors have a significant role to play in supporting conflict management. Analysis, design, implementation and monitoring of projects addressing conflicts relating to gender relations, respect for human rights and the environment should consider the situation in the target community and its surroundings.
The violent and destructive forms of conflict in Iraq have many underlying causes. This paper aims to provide an overview of the underlying causes of conflict in Iraq. It also suggests a set of guidelines to the international humanitarian and development community to effectively include conflict management activities in future interventions. Whilst recognizing that humanitarian reconstruction and development activity cannot by itself create peace or avert violent conflict, this paper advocates that conflict management initiatives should be incorporated as a mainstream, fundamental component of funded programmes. As such, this paper calls on donors to increase funding for such initiatives.
Additionally, this paper offers support to organizations by providing a basic survey of both successful and unsuccessful activities undertaken at different stages of conflict escalation. This can be viewed as a helpful guide or framework for what could potentially be replicated in Iraq, where conflicts are numerous and exist at different levels, with various actors, stages and intensity. Donors are encouraged to explore the various manners in which conflict management activities could be integrated into humanitarian and development programming, provided additional resources are made available.
Finally, this paper urges consideration of conflict and contextual analysis in the design of all projects. It stresses the importance of tracking and responding to conflict sensitive indicators throughout the planning and implementation phases (as part of the monitoring plan), since conflicts evolve and are often subject to rapid change. Donors should thus add flexibility to project agreements and encourage analysis of developments during implementation and subsequent modifications to maximize the effectiveness of future programmes.