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Oiling the Engine for Change: Iraqi Civil Society Primed to Power Extractive Reform

At a recent proposal-writing workshop organized by the Revenue Watch Institute – Natural Resource Charter (RWI-NRC) in Erbil, Iraq, three participants thoughtfully answered a question: how is oil a tool for development?

“It’s a plane!” said the first. “It can take us to new places in terms of development, but it needs a good pilot to avoid turbulence and take us in for a safe landing.”

“More like a rocket,” offered the second. “It can take us to space and back, but it can also blow up in our faces.” Others in the room agreed, recalling fresh conflict as a result of tensions between Iraq’s central government and semi-autonomous Kurdish regional authorities over crude exports rights.

A third participant questioned the public benefits of oil, saying, “It’s a big, powerful machine that speeds along like a Hummer truck—but it’ll never be ours to own. It’s as if it’s warning you, ‘Keep away,’ as it rumbles by.”

A recent workshop in Erbil taught participants to transform concepts for civil society interventions within the Iraqi extractives sector into realistic and achievable projects.


For the 16 civil society actors who participated in the workshop, natural resource ownership is just one of the thorny issues that surround the oil and gas industry today. The country’s vast oil reserves are entirely state-owned, and its revenues have surged, according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). But in spite of this public wealth, the country’s transparency and governance indicators are in poor shape, according to the Resource Governance Index—partially as a result of corruption.

Iraqi civil society members hope to change that. In 2010, they formed a coalition for transparency in the extractive industries, and they have since worked to push for reform through RWI-NRC’s Iraq program to strengthen civil society engagement with EITI.

With funding from the US embassy in Baghdad, the recent five-day training gave participants the skills necessary to transform their concepts for civil society interventions within the Iraqi extractives sector into realistic and achievable projects, guided by the RWI-NRC Iraq team and expert consultants. Six proposals emerged from the workshop, for projects ranging from research and public awareness efforts to advocacy campaigns with regional and national decision-makers, communities and media.

Stronger proposal-writing skills have helpd the workshop participants to fill capacity gaps in Iraq’s civil society. Ferial Al-Kaabi, director of Iraqi non-profit Awan, said that while she has written many project proposals, the new insights she gained into the process will help her to attract greater funding and support. Likewise, Ahmed Al-Shimmery, director of another non-profit, Al Haboby, expressed appreciation for the new skills he developed and regret that the workshop wasn’t longer.