The term civil society organization (CSO) refers to groups performing service-oriented or development-oriented work in the “third sector,” that is neither governmentally owned and managed nor strictly acting as business concerns. In the Iraqi context, it is common for such organizations refer to themselves as munadhamat ghayr hukumiya, or “non-governmental organizations” and indeed the federal-level agency responsible for the registration of such groups is known as the NGOs Directorate, about which more information appears below.
The names of organizations and individuals involved in the research have been withheld to protect privacy and security.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) are new forms in the Iraqi context. In the Ba’thist period civil society as a concept was not recognized and many of the civil-society functions were either repressed or incorporated into the state. Almost immediately after the fall of the old regime and virtual collapse of the Iraqi state in spring 2003, the Iraqi CSO sector began to emerge, and has since grown exponentially. At the early NGO coordinating meetings in summer 2003, usually convened by Western donors, there were just a handful of newly minted CSOs in attendance. By the following year such meetings were numbering in the hundreds of organizations. Today the number of CSOs in Iraq is impossible to pinpoint but estimates range as high as 10,000 or more CSOs, although formally registered groups are much fewer than this.
Civil Societies and The Iraqi Government
A new law was implemented in 2010 to govern NGO-s, and is a testament to their recognized power within the Iraqi state. The approval of the new law in 2010 is considered a victory for independent CSOs in Iraq and on paper signals a new balance between the state and civil society organizations. The law was hailed as one of the most progressive in the region, including provisions for clear and straightforward registration process, lifting barriers to foreign and domestic funding, operational activity, and international contact. However, implementation remains frozen as implementing provisions have not been issued by the Iraqi cabinet. Even with the new law on the books, the pre-April 2010 system is still in effect. Furthermore, the NGOs Directorate, at least according to the allegations of CSOs interviewed for this project, remains responsible to the political parties that control the Iraqi Council of Ministers.
Iraqi Civil Society Needs
Civil society in Iraq is in its infancy, and is highly dependent on donors for its development. Discontinuities in donor commitment to Iraqi CSOs have proved to be damaging to the health of CSOs or public confidence in the sector.
Civil Societies by Region
CSOs in the western and northern areas of the country, where the security situation has been less stable until more recently, in general tend to be more recently established, less multi-functional in their capabilities, and suffer more capacity gaps, both as a sector and as individual CSOs. However, capacity gaps in parts of Iraq (Wasit or Muthanna governorates, for example) have experienced relative stability since 2003.