First, the ongoing violence, especially in central Iraq, is not conducive to the smooth development of local NGOs and/or their relations with government or UN bodies, and providing any aid in these circumstances is fraught with problems.
On 11 December 2009 UNHCR reiterated its concern about involuntary returns amid ongoing violence: "UNHCR... advises against involuntary returns to Iraq of persons originating from Central Iraq until there is a substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country."
"Many groups continue to face significant threats with UNHCR offices reporting that the numbers of Iraqi refugees returning are being offset by new arrivals," it said.
Second, establishing the bona fides of local NGOs in the current climate and ahead of elections scheduled for 7 March 2010 may be difficult for UN bodies, hence the lengthy vetting processes.
The UN already has a number of safeguards in place: UNHCR, for instance, has said local NGOs, to become eligible partners, need to be officially registered as NGOs; have a satisfactory track record; be able to set up their own bank account; and have satisfactory audit reports from previous years.
Third, in a society where government is weak, NGOs are relatively new and controls are lax, it may be difficult to boost cooperation between local NGOs and government, let alone between local NGOs and UN bodies, one analyst said.
"The Iraqi government is still building itself up and facing numerous challenges in many fields ranging from internal and external security to economic and public services. Cooperation with NGOs is still not one of its priorities," said Hamid Hassan Adul-Aziz, a lecturer in politics at Basra University.
"NGO culture is still a new phenomena. Most NGOs are either affiliated to political parties, under their control or at least sympathize with some of them," Abdul-Aziz said.
But Basil Abdul-Wahab al-Azawi, head of the Commission of Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of more than 1,000 NGOs inside and outside Iraq, called for a greater role for local NGOs. "Giving us equal opportunities with international NGOs and the Iraqi government will help achieve the necessary support, and rapid successful outcomes," he said.
"If the current mechanism for assisting IDPs [internally displaced persons], refugees and returnees is implemented next year then the outcomes will be as disappointing as they are now," said al-Azawi, adding that encouraging IDPs and refugees to return without ensuring decent housing, effective public services, jobs and financial assistance was a recipe for disaster.
"We have to make sure that the basics for return to their areas of origin are available. Only in this way will the results be good," he said.
Mizhar Abid Ahmed, a local government official in Iraq's western Anbar province, which has seen numerous bombings, said the security situation was hampering cooperation with NGOs: "We sometimes tell NGOs we are not ready to cooperate with them when we see the security situation in the area they want to visit is not good or we can't dispatch enough security forces to protect them."
The 2010 UNHCR Iraq operations profile says one of its key targets is the expansion of the "national NGO partnership programme" to broaden the agency's impact at the community level.
Maha Sidky, a spokesperson for UNHCR in Iraq, told IRIN by email that UNHCR had strengthened its links with local NGOs since the second half of 2008, and had switched from dealing almost exclusively with international NGOs as in previous years, something it had been forced to do for security reasons.
No large-scale returns yet
UNHCR said that although more IDPs and refugees are returning to their areas of origin, large-scale returns had not yet taken place. It put the number of IDPs who had returned in 2008-09 at about 300,000, and refugees at about 80,000.
Sidky said there was an average of 17,000 returnees (refugees and IDPs together) per month in 2009, but the rate of return would probably decrease around the time of the March 2010 elections.
According to Iraqi government figures from early this year, there are nearly 2.6 million IDPs in Iraq and about two million Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan.
In its 1 December Global Appeal for 2010-11, UNHCR said it would increase its 2010 budget for Iraq to US$264.29 million from $168 million in 2009.