19 March 2013 marks the 10-year anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The humanitarian impact of the invasion has been devastating. A lack of security, as well as access to basic services such as sanitation, water and healthcare, continue to affect the lives of millions of Iraqis.
Christian Aid has been working in Iraq for almost 20 years. As well as providing assistance in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, our partners are working in both the north and south of the country to support the poorest and most vulnerable communities.
In this blog Maeve Bateman, Middle East policy change officer at Christian Aid, reflects on her recent visit to northern Iraq and our work there.
What has changed for people in Iraq?
A recent visit to Christian Aid partners in Sulaimaniya, northern Iraq, provided an opportunity to reflect on how the country has changed in the 10 years since the US-led invasion.
In the last decade, ordinary Iraqis have faced great upheaval and heartache. More than 100,000 people are believed to have lost their lives since the conflict began.
UNHCR says that more than 1.2 million people remain internally displaced within Iraq, having been forced to leave their homes, and nearly 1.5 million Iraqis remain as refugees in other countries.
While military forces withdrew in 2011, there remain serious security concerns throughout the country. Attacks and bombings are still all too common.
Despite this, people are focused on rebuilding their communities, and the work of Christian Aid partners on the ground is having a positive effect.
Christian Aid’s work
Over the last ten years, the focus of Christian Aid's work in Iraq has shifted. Originally, we concentrated on providing emergency relief to people forced to leave their homes because of the conflict.
Now, the situation has changed enough to allow us to address longer-term development work, working with partners across Iraq to address the needs of communities using a number of different approaches.
Our partner REACH (Rehabilitation, Education, and Community Health) works with marginalised and vulnerable communities to enable them to access local services, build their livelihoods and claim their rights.
REACH has supported local communities to form committees and approach local authorities in order to secure basic services.
This approach has led to villages gaining access to electricity, new road projects to enable them to access nearby towns, and new water projects to ensure their access to clean drinking water.
REACH has also enabled farmers to engage with the government’s agricultural department, securing compensation for drought-affected farmers and receiving commitments from local government for further support.
Meeting with some of these farmers, they outlined both the positive effects this work has had to date and their goals for further change to enable them to improve their situation. They acknowledged all the work still to be done, but said that now 'we have a voice'.
Another Christian Aid partner in southern Iraq works with vulnerable women, providing vocational training so they can support themselves and their families.
Despite the positive impact of this work, many challenges still remain.
Our partner Asuda, which works in northern Iraq, has noted an increase in the rate of honour killings and self-immolation.
Christian Aid continues to support its important work providing protection to women threatened with abuse, offering social workers, legal support and a telephone hotline.
Asuda also runs a shelter where women concerned for their safety, together with their children, can take refuge.
While the increasing demand for Asuda's services highlights a worrying level of violence against women, it also shows that more and more women are becoming aware of how, and where, to access support.
Speaking with people in Iraq about what their life is like 10 years after the invasion, they presented a mixed picture. While on the whole people hope the security situation is improving, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the future.
In northern Iraq, it was also possible to see the impact of broader instability in the region. More than 100,000 refugees from Syria have crossed the border in the last year, with many more families arriving every day.
It was heartening to see the response of local host communities to the new arrivals - refugees spoke to us of receiving food, clothing and blankets from local people, some of whom would have been similarly displaced themselves.
The resilience of people in Iraq is clear but so, too, is the magnitude of the struggle they still face. The work of Christian Aid partners remains vital.
Ten years on from the invasion, the challenges faced by the people of Iraq are substantial. However, there is still hope for the future.