Fieldset
“Our internal conflict”: Saying goodbye to Iraq

As Eben comes to the end of his assignment in Iraq, he asks himself tough personal questions and reflects on the role of a humanitarian

As I sit here and type this, I inevitably think back over the past eight months of my life. Soon my nine-month-long assignment to Iraq will come to an end.

In the previous blogs that I wrote during this assignment, I discussed my role. I also wrote about my experiences visiting one of our medical facilities. Unfortunately (due to various reasons) I could not visit more of our medical facilities here in Iraq.

In this, my last blog from Iraq. I will reflect on my time and experiences here.

I received many questions from friends, family and even acquaintances about why I would choose to be deployed to an area of conflict. So, I thought I would share my personal reflections on this.

Safety

Coming into Iraq, my partner and my family naturally had some questions and concerns about my personal safety.

Even though there is always an element of risk involved when operating in conflict zones, as an international humanitarian organisation regularly working in these places (and sometimes the only medical organisation to do so in a specific context), MSF takes the safety of its personnel extremely seriously.

This is evident in the many security and context briefings that we receive before and during every assignment, no matter where we’re sent. This is even more so for assignments in areas of conflict.

Many of my colleagues speak of the internal conflict they experience: their desire to remain and help versus the pleas from their families to return home

It is always the free choice of the volunteer to accept an assignment and your informed consent is always required. In addition, there is always an assurance from senior leadership within the organisation that you may elect to leave at any time, should you feel unsafe.

This was no different here in Iraq.

Iraq in the news

Those of you following the news over the last couple of months would have noticed the ongoing protests in the streets of Baghdad that led to the resignation of the government.

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People in Baghdad taking part in mass protests against the Iraqi government
People in Baghdad taking part in mass protests against the Iraqi government

Then, of course, there were the American military strikes against Iranian targets in Iraq, and the retaliation by Iran against American military bases within Iraq.

None of this bodes well for political stability nor security in general.

It is against this backdrop that I received many questions about why I chose to stay?

I can elect to leave at any time and return home. However, our Iraqi colleagues cannot do the same. For them this is home.

Speaking with international colleagues at our staff house, many faced the same questions from their loved ones and some are even under pressure from their families to return home.

Many of my colleagues speak of the internal conflict they experience: their desire to remain and help versus the pleas from their families to return home.

Where we are needed most

I personally feel that it is exactly in these unstable and conflict areas where our help is needed the most.

Some international aid agencies did elect to reduce their presence in Iraq and evacuate international staff during this time. However, for MSF, due to our acceptance within the local community, we felt safe enough to remain behind (while continually assessing the safety of personnel). I am very proud of that and to be part of that way of working.

I believe that I cannot leave when we are needed even more than before, and as part of the international staff team, I can elect to leave at any time and return home. However, our Iraqi colleagues cannot do the same. For them this is home.

I am happy that my international staff colleagues and I chose to stay and continued to work with our Iraqi colleagues. We are fortunate to have the support system and the gift of choice in such a difficult situation. That is all part of being a humanitarian and working with MSF.

Thank you

Iraq and its wonderful people have been scarred by wars and conflict. My colleagues and I cannot continue doing what we are doing without your continued generous support. The needs are great. Please consider making a donation to MSF today.

As my assignment in Iraq is coming to an end, I am looking forward to some downtime with my partner, family and friends. I am grateful to them for their continued love and support.

I will write again from my next assignment  – wherever that may be!

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