For the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), dialogue with Islamic State (IS) fighters is key to keeping aid workers safe, and the NGO is working to establish direct contact with decision-makers in the IS organisation.
ICRC Director General Yves Daccord told the Ostschweiz am Sonntag newspaper that “you can make the best and most intelligent peace plan possible, but it won’t achieve anything unless you can sit around a table together – especially in the case of groups like Islamic State”.
Daccord says his organisation is working on building contacts in the upper echelons of IS, for example with its leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi. But, he added, it’s also important to create dialogue with IS members not in leadership positions, since they tend to be responsible for fulfilling basic needs such as supplying the population with food and water.
Although the ICRC’s work in regions controlled by IS is “very challenging,” Daccord says it has the advantage of having worked in Iraq since 1980.
“We have built up a lot of relationships that we can build on,” he said, allowing the ICRC to negotiate with all parties involved in the civil war. In addition, he says that the NGO’s “fragility is its strength,” although the difficult and dangerous situation in Syria and Iraq means ICRC workers have to work extraordinarily hard to remain safe and trustworthy. Despite an escalation in violence that has struck fear into Daccord as well, he says dialogue remains essential.
However, although the ICRC has teams working in the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Homs – with Swiss among them – Daccord says no such fixed groups are currently on the ground in IS-controlled areas of Iraq. He says the ICRC hopes to develop teams there – although “it took two years” to do so in Aleppo.
swissinfo.ch and agencies