The recent liberation of Mosul was the largest urban battle since Stalingrad in World War II. While much has been written on the important role of the U.S. and Iraqi governments in that liberation, we’ve heard much less about the role of the United Nations and its agencies.
In fact, recently, some members of the administration and Congress have questioned the U.N.’s value and whether the organization is anything more than a talk shop.
In Mosul, the U.N.’s robust actions on the ground, the clear alignment to U.S. interests and effective use of taxpayer dollars have answered that question definitively: The U.N. does so much more than talk.
In late August, I traveled with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to Mosul. The message to our delegation was clear and best described by Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander of the U.S.-led international forces coalition operating in country, who said, the “role of the UN is essential.”
Furthermore, according to Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officials, the U.S. and U.N. are in “lock-step,” with the U.N. playing an especially critical role along the humanitarian assistance and stabilization fronts.
These U.N. efforts are directly in line with top U.S. priorities. In fact, the legitimacy of the Iraqi government, its ability to maintain civilian order, keep ISIS out and provide aid to those affected by the terror group, hinge on the work of the U.N.
In terms of humanitarian assistance, the response has been massive — both before the liberation and after — with the U.N. and partners providing aid to 1.5 million Moslawis.
Before the battle in Mosul even began, the first key step in ensuring aid and civilian protection was the planned removal of Iraqi citizens. The U.N. helped lead that effort with nearly 1 million civilians evacuated — one of the largest managed civilian evacuations in modern history.
Once the battle in Mosul was underway, the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO) responded to a significant challenge. Normally, medical care is provided at a significant distance from the battlefield. However, in Mosul, U.N. personnel recognized the grave need as patients, including children, were dying due to lack of immediate care and long transfer times.
As such, WHO partnered with Iraqi health directorates to establish static/mobile medical clinics and ambulances for patient transfers. Doctors near the front lines performed screening and triage, provided IV fluids and oxygen, and dispensed medications as needed, helping some 20,000 individuals in the process.
In addition, in the war zone of ISIS-occupied Mosul, maternity care had been crippled. To counter this, specialized personnel from the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) provided life-saving obstetric emergency services and safe delivery options to thousands via mobile delivery rooms and field hospitals.
Of the almost 1 million Iraqis initially displaced, 800,000 still remain outside of their homes. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), of which the U.S. is the largest contributor, has been and continues to provide shelter and lifesaving emergency assistance, including blankets, sleeping mats, hygiene kits and cooking sets to those fleeing the horrors of ISIS.
Of course, once a battle ends, the ultimate challenge of stabilizing the area against future unrest begins. The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) plays a key role in these efforts, thanks in large part to strong U.S. funding.
Infrastructure programs, initiated in 2015, have helped rapidly stabilize newly retaken areas from ISIS and given the population a sense of progress. In Mosul alone, more than 300 projects are underway including the rehabilitation of five water treatment plants and 20 primary health centers and schools.
In short, as noted by Major General Jones, “All hail what the U.N. Development Program has done.”
During our visit, U.N. officials stressed that a lack of clarity from the U.S. would be a destabilizing element over the next few years. Moving forward, it is incumbent on the U.S. to be crystal clear in its support of U.N. efforts in Iraq.
In the context of current fiscal year 2018 budget discussions between Congress and the administration, this means maintaining funding for the various U.N. entities operating in country, all of which face significant funding threats and even outright funding withdrawals.
At the end of the day, the U.N. has demonstrated its value in a country of clear U.S. strategic importance. The U.S. should demonstrate its own commitment to working with the U.N. to ensure that the progress made in 2017 serves as strong foundation for continued gains in 2018 and beyond.
Jordie Hannum is the senior director of the Better World Campaign, an organization that works to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the United Nations.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.