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Japan should disperse more of its official development assistance for Iraq through nongovernmental organizations so people can receive aid more quickly, according to a senior member of a Tokyo-based NGO.

Rika Yamamoto, head of Peace Winds Japan’s Iraqi aid projects, said other countries are more aware of the roles played by NGOs, and those governments disperse a large portion of official aid through NGOs.

“But Japan still is not making full use of NGOs” that have built their own networks in Iraq, Yamamoto said in an interview with The Japan Times.

About 110 Iraqis working for Peace Winds Japan, which has been providing medical assistance in northern Iraq since 1996, are rebuilding hospitals and providing medical supplies. The group pulled its Japanese staff out of the country in May due to the deteriorating security situation.

Despite the great need for aid in northern Iraq, such as in the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, Yamamoto said the small amount of aid given to NGO groups has been limited to those in Baghdad and nearby regions.

“The aid needs remain unchanged in northern Iraq” since large-scale military operations in Iraq ended in May 2003, she said.

Nearly all of Japan’s grassroots projects in Iraq, which focus primarily on providing medical supplies and other basic daily needs to regional governments and NGOs, are in Baghdad and Al-Muthanna Province in the south, where Self-Defense Forces personnel are engaged in humanitarian-assistance work.

Yamamoto says it is difficult to ask Japanese embassy staff to travel to northern Iraq to assess the region’s needs, as two Japanese diplomats were killed there in November last year.

“But I hope that more grassroots projects will be carried out” to help those in need in areas other than Baghdad, she said.

Yamamoto said most Iraqis in other parts of the country are not aware that Japan has troops in the southern city of Samawah, and that is good for her group.

“At first we were concerned that anti-Japan sentiment would grow and might negatively affect our activities,” Yamamoto said. “But there was not as much of a reaction as we thought there would be.”

She was surprised when some Japanese politicians suggested — before troops were dispatched to Samawah early this year — that Peace Winds Japan should also work in the southern Iraq city.

“We are able to work (in a certain region) because we know the needs at the grassroots level,” she said. “If we work with the government and the SDF, our neutrality as an NGO will be damaged.”

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