Moving From Conflict to Engagement With a Marginalized Community in Iraq Generates Mutual Trust, Improved Security, and Business Continuity

Men examine water pipes in Rumaila.

This paper will demonstrate that, instead of building higher security fences, the process of understanding marginalized communities and engaging with neighboring communities is key to building relationships and neutralizing hostility. It describes how the Rumaila Operating Organization, managing Iraq’s largest oilfield—which generates 40% of the country’s gross domestic product—dealt with major unrest that forced the shutdown of operations. The situation was resolved by a sustainable community-development program, based on thorough research and needs analysis.

The Rumaila oil field must inject more than 2 million bbl of industrial water/day by 2025 in order to continue producing 1.4 million BOPD. In 2013, construction to achieve this increased capacity from the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant was halted for 6 months by gunfire, stone-throwing, violence, and intimidation by the neighboring community. They harbor a deep mistrust of outsiders; Saddam Hussein drained their marshes and persecuted them. A new approach was needed, and sheiks representing warring factions within the community were brought together by the organization for the first time to identify the community’s concerns and needs.

The new engagement approach was aimed at building mutual respect and trust, initially through engagement with the women, with these wary communities. This entry centers on stakeholder analysis and relationship-building in southern Iraq, which has significant security challenges, and how previously warring tribes are now coming together in the “beautiful game” of football. The activities of 2013–15 laid the foundations for community engagement, while the period 2015–17 sought to reinforce these relationships together with a focus on delivering social-investment projects centered on health, education, sport, and recreation as part of the Rumaila Social Welfare Fund. The engagement and investment work undertaken by the consortium is also intended to support a number of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in respect of community development and equity.

In addition, while community unrest was the catalyst for a root and branch review of community relations in Qarmat Ali, during this later period, the consortium proactively engaged with villages in North Rumaila—communities that also neighbor the oil field, and with similar social issues and challenges as Qarmat Ali. But here, the engagement wasn’t prompted by community protest but rather by a systematic review and assessment of stakeholders and their relative needs.

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