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This week’s editors

“Francesc”

Francesc Badia i Dalmases is Editor and Director of democraciaAbierta.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Arthur Helton and Gil Loescher, leading specialists on refugee protection and humanitarian responses, illuminated the humanitarian aspects of the Iraq war with unmatched expertise. Tragically, Arthur Helton was killed in the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad on 19 August; but Gil Loescher has shown extraordinary resilience and courage to recover from his very serious injuries. He now resumes their series. This column page includes Arthur and Gil’s earlier work and warm tributes from their colleagues.

The flight from Mosul: “We left everything behind to save our lives”

As the Islamic State has consolidated its hold in Mosul, those who do not share its extreme fundamentalism have been subjected to brutal treatment—for which those who visited the war on Iraq bear an historic responsibility.

Iraq’s future hanging by a thread

Iraqis now have greater physical security, though violence continues and politics are stalemated. But the years of conflict have corroded trust, entrenched sectarian identities, undermined livelihoods, and ravaged the environment. Zaid Al-Ali, travelling through Iraq, finds a society under intense stress whose human and national bonds are frayed - but far from broken.

Iraq: Coalition deal announced as social frustrations mount

Days after two protesters were killed in Basra when police fired into the crowd, protests continue as political parties bicker

The Baghdad bomb, the United Nations, and America

The massacre of United Nations employees in Iraq on 19 August 2003 was a dark moment in the organisation's history. It also carries lessons for the United States in the age of Barack Obama, says Johanna Mendelson Forman.

(This article was first published on 19 August 2009)

Living after tragedy: the UN Baghdad bomb, one year on

A year after the bomb attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Gil Loescher pays tribute to the victims, including his close colleague and openDemocracy partner Arthur C Helton, and reflects on the implications of the tragedy for the UN’s humanitarian work in Iraq and beyond.

(This article was first published on 19 August 2004)

Arthur C Helton: a tribute

Arthur C Helton, director of peace and conflict studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a columnist for openDemocracy, was killed in the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003. His colleague and co-columnist, Gil Loescher, was critically injured. Caspar Henderson & David Hayes pay tribute on behalf of openDemocracy.

(This article was first published on 21 August 2003)

The human cost of war: name before shame

A precise record of the individual victims of war and conflict worldwide is emerging as a key objective of humanitarian work, says John Sloboda.

Halabja: the politics of memory

The Saddam-era poison-gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja on 16 March 1988 has from the start been surrounded by distortion and denial. Only truth can deliver justice for the victims, says Joost R Hiltermann.

'I was not going to die in the rubble'

“The security situation in Iraq is improving day by day. It is under control now”. These were Paul Bremer’s parting words to Arthur Helton and me at our briefing with him at the United States administrator’s office in Saddam Hussein’s former palace in Baghdad. It was 19 August 2003. Arthur and I were in Iraq to assess the human cost of the war and the occupation for openDemocracy.

From the ashes: a multilateral mission?

Johanna Mendelson Forman, recently returned from Iraq, knew well many of those killed and injured in the bombing of the United Nations mission in Baghdad. In mourning her colleagues, she reflects on the meaning and implications of this event for the UN’s future role in the country.

'We send our best guy to Iraq and he comes home in a box'

James Galbraith remembers a good man, and recalls a terrible warning of the Iraqi war.

Arthur Helton: agent for the dispossessed

Arthur Helton’s tireless research and practical concern played a vital role in linking the world’s refugee policies to human rights and international law. His colleague Guy Goodwin-Gill warmly recalls a friend, colleague, and ally.

Destination Baghdad

This column was written by Arthur Helton and Gil Loescher on the eve of their research and evaluation visit to Iraq, from where they were to report for openDemocracy on the challenges of reconstruction facing Iraq’s new governors. On 19 August, they were victims of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Arthur Helton was killed and Gil Loescher severely injured in the blast.

NGOs and governments in a new humanitarian landscape

Are non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at risk of becoming a tool of governments’ foreign policies? The US’s increasing engagement in ‘small wars’ and nation-building is challenging NGOs’ sense of their core mission and degree of independence. A decisive period is opening where the very meaning of humanitarian action is being explored and redefined.

Home from home? The journey to a better refugee policy

Some governments and analysts of migration propose ‘international transit centres’ and ‘protected zones’ close to refugees’ countries of origin, as a way to control and limit their movement as well as guaranteeing their basic rights. But research into the human rights environment in the regions immediately affected by refugees and asylum-seekers indicates that a consistent, holistic policy to protect people in movement would be a far more effective and humane solution to current problems.

Food and the politics of humanitarian access in Iraq

Before the Iraq war, around 60% of the country’s people depended on the World Food Programme. The UN and other agencies need to make huge and sustained efforts to meet their needs in the post-conflict situation. Food assistance, long the subject of high politics in Iraq, is likely to remain a key area of dispute as nation-building evolves.

Iraq: lurching toward recovery

The severe and long-standing humanitarian crises in Iraq are reinforced by the messy fallout of a devastating war. UN agencies, governments, and NGOs are locked in intense arguments about who should be responsible for rebuilding the country and salving its people’s wounds. Meanwhile, reality bites.

Internally displaced persons in Iraq: a potential crisis?

The aftermath of war in Iraq is likely to intensify the problem of internal displacement that has already affected thousands of Kurds in the north and Shi’a and Marsh Arabs in the south. Two relatively untested agencies – the UN Office for Project Services and the International Organisation for Migration – will be responsible for aiding the huge flows of displaced people expected. Can they cope? International experts have grave doubts.

Jordan: coping with a war next door

Jordan, already deeply preoccupied by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is acutely affected by the impact of war on its Iraqi neighbour. With a common border and 380,000 Iraqis living there, the country has made extensive humanitarian preparations with virtually no consultation from the US. Jordan’s UN ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, talks to Arthur Helton about the challenges that will follow war.

Rebuilding Iraq - London sees it differently from Washington

The joint US-British military operation in Iraq involves not only the integration of two separate force structures but also the coordination of two different approaches to humanitarian assistance and recovery operations. In an interview with Peter Troy, Humanitarian Programmes Manager at the UK’s Department for International Development, Gil Loescher explores the contrasts in the two countries’ approaches.

Iran: preparing for a refugee crisis

The war in Iraq faces its Iranian neighbour with the prospect of hosting another wave of refugees. How will the country cope? Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, talks to Arthur Helton about how past experience informs current humanitarian planning on the ground.

Turkey prepares for a refugee influx from Iraq

Twelve years ago this month some 2 million Iraqi Kurds, fleeing Iraqi suppression of widespread revolt in northern Iraq, escaped to the Turkish border and into Iran. They suffered terribly. How would they fare in the event of conflict this time?

After the Iraq war: planning the humanitarian response

To win a war in Iraq, the US has to win the peace. Its military forces as well as one of its leading independent humanitarian agencies, the International Rescue Committee, will have a crucial role. But can the military work with the United Nations and non-governmental organisations in ways that save lives, secure post-war order, and preserve the latter’s independence?

War in Iraq: is UNHCR up to it?

The effects of war in Iraq could include huge numbers of refugees. The under-resourced United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the world's principal refugee agency, has an emergency planning programme that crucially depends on cooperation with donor governments, non-governmental organisations, and the US military. Will the agency rise to the challenge of the imminent humanitarian crisis?

Preparing for unpleasant surprises

Improvised and ill-coordinated efforts to respond to refugee flows after they have already reached crisis proportions are the norm. Will things be different if the US attacks Iraq?

War on Iraq: an impending refugee crisis?


The impact of war and disaster on populations, and the record of international agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in dealing with them, receive too little attention in the mainstream media. Here, we focus on the humanitarian implications of a likely war on Iraq.

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