U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at a U.S. Institute of Peace

Panel Discussion on the Role of the U.S. in Stabilizing Iraq and Syria After ISIS

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov


ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. It's good to be with you. USIP is certainly an appropriate setting for today's discussion. I know in his former life, Steve Hadley must have asked himself many of the questions that we're grappling with today over and over again. And of course, Nancy Lindborg is former head of USAID's DCHA Bureau. She knows how important these issues are to us. So it's great to be with all of you.

It's also an appropriate time to have this discussion. In coming weeks, the Administration will finalize and rope out the first ever multi-agency framework for those issues that we're discussing on stabilization. It's called the Stabilization Assistance Review, and it's built upon the lessons that we're learning in Syria, Iraq, but also, quite frankly, a number of other places. The work that we've been doing over the last decade or so. This helps USAID because it establishes a clear division of labor and responsibilities in the joint efforts of USAID, State, and DOD in stabilization. It also helps us because it delineates mission parameters as quantifiable objectives as opposed to really open-ended good intentions.

The SAR will make it official that stabilization programs are more than just manifestations of American generosity. They are, instead, key components of our national security planning. They're part of the apparatus that is brought to bear in some of the most chaotic places in the world.

To emphasize, the SAR will be about much more than what we're talking about today. It's about much more than Iraq and Syria. It is instead a way to, I think, clarify and reinforce our working relationships in a number of places in the world, places like the Sahel and elsewhere, where stabilization may be an important tool that we want to bring to bear. Having said that, I think our experience in Syria and Northern Iraq has certainly taught us a lot. And it's certainly influenced our thinking.

When I traveled to Raqqa a few months back, my objective, on behalf of USAID, was to make sure that our role there -- our work there -- was well-defined, that it was in line with our capacities -- that which we're able to do -- but also that it fit within our larger purpose and mission as an agency. As you might imagine, I was terribly impressed by the work and progress made by General Votel and his courageous men and women in uniform. But I've got to say, I was also particularly impressed with how well the blended civilian military team was working together, without significant seams, without duplication. I think it's important here, as we get going, to distinguish in the kind of work that we do at USAID and in areas like Iraq and Syria.

So, first off, we do humanitarian work. The assistance that we provide in a place like Syria is, quite frankly, similar to that which we provide in many parts of the world. It's based solely upon need and the availability of resources. So, we're doing this kind of work already in places like Somalia, northern Nigeria, Yemen, DRC, and elsewhere. What we're talking about today, what we're focusing in on is something that's quite different -- stabilization.

First, in Syria, we don't provide stabilization assistance in areas that are held by the Assad government. And that's very important to emphasize. We work closely with DOD as well as the larger USG mission. And our work is really aimed at helping civilians to return to and recover in those areas that have been liberated from ISIS.

In Raqqa, stabilization takes a very limited form. It helps to restore those essential services that are the principal barrier to the return to the Raqqa of Syrians who formerly resided there. And those services are really things like electricity, clean water, availability of medicine, some semblance of education. Our footprint there, USAID's, is very modest, by design, it's very limited. And we work through civil society in an effort to strengthen the community itself. So, it's not simply about delivering services, it's also about reinforcing community structures so that they have the foundation in the long run to do these things for themselves.

And the importance of this work was really born out by my time in Raqqa with General Votel. I remember, we went to an IDP camp on the outskirts of town, and we interviewed a number of Syrians. And we asked them, you know, whether they wanted to go home, first off. And every single one, without exception, said yes, they wanted to go back home to Raqqa. And then secondly, we asked them what held them back. And it was always those sort of things, it was electricity.

I remember one young mother that we spoke to, who said that the reason that she wasn't back in her home is that her husband was diabetic and they couldn't get meds. And so, when we're able to help restore those meds, she's going to go home. And that's, of course, what we want to see.

Raqqa has been physically devastated. It's truly rubble and damaged building, as far as the eyes can see. But even with all of that, some 95,000 Syrians have returned home to Raqqa. I think that's a testament to the military's progress. I think it's a testament to a coordinated, effective multi-agency effort. And I think, as much as anything, it's a testament to the spirit of the Syrian people. They want to go home. And so, in Raqqa, what I saw with our modest footprint is not an open-ended commitment, but rather a focused mission with a clear definition of success. And that works for us at USAID. As you heard from General Votel, the same thing is true for USAID.

Our work in Iraq is different. It's quite different. Most importantly, in Iraq, we have the advantage of a national governing partner. There is a government that we can work with to do our work. And so, that allows us to be much more ambitious. In addition to helping to rehabilitate some basic services in a number of communities, we're reinforcing responsive governance and trying to strengthen civil society. In particular, we're helping Iraqis prepare for the all-important elections that are coming up in May. And, of course, those are the first elections since the expulsion of ISIS. Now, I personally have very high hopes for those elections. I think they're a great opportunity for the government both to strengthen its inclusiveness and its overall legitimacy in the minds of the people. And I think that a successful election, producing a credible outcome, is about as strong and lasting a rebuke to ISIS and extremism as I can possibly think of.

Many of these Iraqis, as you know, were brutally victimized by ISIS. And so, part of our work is targeting those who were disproportionately brutalized and affected. So, the religious and ethnic minorities, for example, in and around Nineveh, we're working with them in particular to try to create the conditions that will allow them to go home and to rebuild their lives. And so, that's work that we're also doing there.

In both Iraq and Syria, our role in stabilization is very carefully defined. And the specific activities -- naturally, as they should -- vary with the setting. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, at least not one that would accomplish the goals that we all want to see and that the President wants to see. Most importantly, our success -- USAID's success -- depends upon the success of the State Department in mobilizing international resources in their role, but also, of course, DOD helping us to have access and security. Without their success, we can't possibly do what it is that we seek to do.

All of this, I think has created important lessons for us in the Stabilization Assistance Review report, and I think that that will be a lasting positive product from all of the work and all the challenges that we've seen. And so, with that, I'll turn it over to Brett to hear more from the State side.

Last updated: March 03, 2020

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