With Country In Turmoil, Iraq War Veterans Become Humanitarians

Less aid is accompanied with a drastic rise in the number of Iraqi refugees. According to Brookings, half a million Iraqis fled Anbar Province alone between January and June due to violence. Thousands more left Mosul in July after ISIL issued an ultimatum to Iraqi Christians. Then in August, thousands of religious minorities were stranded on a mountaintop in northern Iraq without food or water. Despite all of this terror, there is simply not enough funding to help the efforts on the ground. A Brookings article in June reported that “only 10 percent of appeals for humanitarian funding have been reached [in Iraq].”

Perhaps most distressing is that this lack of funding is occurring when researchers are finding that the strength of civil society organizations, often funded by humanitarian efforts, is vitally important to the future of the country. A report by Mercy Corps, based off of 2013 public opinion surveys in Iraq, found “civil society plays a critical role in ensuring that government is open, participatory and accountable to citizens.”

In a 2013 interview with the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, Daryl Grisgraber, a Senior Advocate for the Middle East with Refugees International, talked about her impression of Iraqi civil society organizations.

“There were just so few of them, and they seemed distinctly under-resourced,” Daryl said. “Everyone we spoke to said it was a constant struggle to keep funds coming in.”

It is in this reality that Jonathan and Zack push forward, doing what they can to help Iraqi orphans and Syrian refugees respectively.

They share a similar philosophy in how to approach their work. For both men, the way forward is through human interaction with the Iraqi people they want to help, not necessarily government intervention.

“I’m all for civil society and private sector type,” Zack said about how aid should reach Iraq. “If the only time people in the Middle East deal with America was through the apparatus of government, we’re in trouble. Such institutional relationships run shallow and do little to prevent conflict in times of distress between states. It’s the raw people to people interactions that fuel authentic understanding and cooperation across borders, and ultimately, reduce the chances of armed conflict.”

Jonathan also emphasized the importance of forming meaningful relationships.

“Only [by] getting to know their [Iraqi] culture, getting to know these people, are we actually going to finally accomplish the mission that we would like to see accomplished there,” Jonathan said. “I just realized that we need to learn how to love these people.”

Jonathan and Zack’s organizations are just two of the non-profits working to better the lives of Iraqis. Others include the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, Mercy Corps, International Rescue Committee, Heartland Alliance International, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

As the U.S. cuts all humanitarian aid next year and appeals for funding go unanswered, these organizations may play a vital role in the assistance of the Iraqi people whose country is suffering from violence.

And for these two veterans, their mission to help the country of Iraq, no matter how difficult, remains personal.  When Jonathan explained why the Iraqi Children Foundation is so important to him, he listed the names of several friends, including Paul Josh Flynn, who died in the Iraq War.

“I don’t want Paul’s son ten years from now to look at Iraq in turmoil and for him to say, well why did my daddy die? What did he die for?” Jonathan said. “I know what I’m doing is not going to make a huge difference, but in my mind and in the mind of other people…the 60 or 70 kids that we’re helping and keeping away from the terrorist organizations right now by having a non-disclosed location where we take the kids every day and provide food for them and we teach them how to love each other...just those 60 or 70 kids? Then I have accomplished something.”


Check out the Iraqi Children Foundation and TentEd for information on how to donate to Jonathan and Zack’s organizations.

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