Preventing Violent Extremism in Iraq

7 ways UNDP Iraq is working with Government and Communities

February 12, 2024

This week on 12th February, we celebrate the 2nd International Day for the Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE) as and when Conducive to Terrorism, since its establishment in December 2022. 

This day raises awareness of the threats linked to violent extremism – which according to the UN Secretary-General undermines peace, security, human rights, and sustainable development. 

Since overcoming the ISIL insurgency in 2014; PVE remains extremely important to Iraq so much so that its government was at the forefront of advocating for the United Nations to designate this day as a UN Day. The Government of Iraq has shown leadership in ensuring that every effort is made to Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE) within its borders.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq is cooperating with the leadership of the Office of the National Security Advisor (ONSA) to institute preventive measures that address violent extremism.

Our joint efforts are supported through our Social Cohesion Pillar, under which we are working with Government and local entities to promote the reintegration of returnees from North East Syria, internally displaced persons, promoting social cohesion and preventing violence extremism in communities PVE thus, enhancing peaceful co-existence.  The infographic below shows what UNDP is supporting through Social Cohesion, and PVE features prominently in the work we are doing in Iraq. We use a community-level and community supported approach that remains vigilant in the prevention of violent extremism, whilst working towards lasting and sustainable peace in local communities that are vulnerable to this threat. 


Through this work, we have trained close to 500 local Government counterparts in social cohesion, reintegration, PVE, and providing mental health support services. UNDP also supported the establishment of 24 local peace committees in areas of return and trained close to 900 journalists regarding their role in peacebuilding and fighting hate speech. 

In my visits to districts like Ba’aj and Hatra in Ninewa Governorate which were used as terrorist bases during the conflict with ISIL, I have seen first-hand the impact of our work in building back community bonds. In these areas, UNDP has supported the implementation of 150 community initiatives

These initiatives are tangible, impactful and have ensured rapid progress towards peaceful communities through partnership with the local tribal mechanisms. Our role as UNDP is to support the process of empowering communities through social cohesion programmes and initiatives. There can be no development without peace and there can be no peace without development. 

This, however, is only a snippet of our work in this area. For this blog, I will highlight seven ways our work in social cohesion is preventing violent extremism in Iraq. 


1- Developed Comprehensive Plans of Action (PoAs)

In collaboration with local stakeholders at the Governorate level, we supported the development of comprehensive PoAs targeting seven (7) governorates most affected by violent extremism. These PoAs are important as they set the national priorities for addressing the local drivers of violent extremism and complement national PVE strategies. Eight (8) more plans will be developed in eight more Governorates will be reached in 2024. These action plans are essentially roadmaps to ensure that governorates are proactive in responding to drivers of PVE. 


2- Capacity Building for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)

Recognizing the pivotal role of civil society, we trained and equipped 60 Civil Society Organization (CSOs) across all 15 governorates with the necessary skills to implement PVE initiatives outlined in the PoAs. Selected CSOs have successfully executed 27 community-based initiatives across seven Governorates, contributing to grassroots efforts in countering violent extremism. UNDP works through CSOs to ensure that localization through strategic partnerships can carry forward the great work being done at the national and local levels. 


3- Empowerment of Youth and Women


Since 2021, we have been working to empower the youth and women in Iraq to understand PVE concepts, mobilise groups and establish networks to promote social cohesion. 200 youth and women have been trained and in turn, have implemented over 100 community-based initiatives reaching over 22,500 beneficiaries in the last three years. This has resulted in more confidence among the youth and women to take up leadership roles, for example a women’s group  is providing  pro bono legal services to women and young girls in their communities. While another group organised an exhibition to showcase women’s home-made products with the support of UNDP at a local bazaar in Kirkuk – this support has in improved household income for them. 

 It is important for women and youth to take a front seat in ensuring that communities are working toward peace and preventing the resurgence of violent extremism. They are the future of Iraq. 


4- Enhanced IT Skills for Sub-committees

To bolster data management capabilities, we supported 15 sub-committees at the governorate level to enhance their IT skills. These have enabled them to effectively manage and publish PVE-related data to relevant authorities, strengthening informed decision-making related to this critical issue. 


5- Addressing the Link Between Climate Change and Violent Extremism

Climate change has affected the way communities live, leading to displacement, and migration due to decreased natural resources leading to tension in communities. To delve deeper into these issues, we partnered with ONSA to organise a national conference in 2023 to address the critical link between climate change, migration, and violent extremism. Key stakeholders from different government ministries discussed its impact on PVE efforts and likely solutions on how climate change negatively affects migration patterns, livelihoods and opportunities which can lead to the resurgence of violent extremism. 


6- Promotion of Moderate Religious Discourse


Recognizing their influential roles in promoting peace and discouraging communities against violent extremism, we organised several dialogues for tribal, religious, and community leaders through our work with sub-committees at the Governorate level. These have provided spaces for open discourse, emphasizing the rejection of violent extremism across all religions and ethnic groups. As a result, 136 religious leaders were sensitized on moderate religious discourse to foster community cohesion, and help communities focus on what unites them rather than what divides them.


7- Reintegration and Support for Returnees

Working under the Global Framework on Supporting the return of Iraqi Nationals from Northeast Syria, UNDP, and the wider UN System are working with the Iraqi government to reintegrate over 25,000 Iraqi nationals from refugee camps in Northeast Syria. In 2023, we supported 3,925 returnees and internally displaced persons with livelihood options and rehabilitated 801 houses. In 2024, we aim to continue supporting reintegration efforts, focusing on providing essential support to affected families, including housing, livelihood, and mental health services. These efforts actively contribute to durable solutions, ensuring safe and dignified returns to areas of origin that have available basic and essential services.

Through our collaborative interventions in Iraq, we are enabling the Government, Civil Society, local leaders, youth, and women to be a part of addressing the root causes of PVE – enabling every member of the community to be part of Iraq’s journey to lasting peace and sustainable development. 

We thank our partners including the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union (EU), and the Governments of Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, and Germany for enabling us to carry out this important tangible and results-orients work, as UNDP works to operationalize the Humanitarian Development and Peace Nexus, creating clear paths from humanitarian to development in Iraq.