“It’s crucial that CMI doesn’t have an agenda of its own” – CMI’s Iraq adviser tells his experiences

Published on Wednesday, 1st of July 2015

Lack of trust damages confidence-building, says Ilkka Uusitalo.


”The total lack of trust between conflict parties,” Ilkka Uusitalo, CMI’s senior adviser for the Middle East and the European Union, replies quickly when asked about the most critical challenge for conflict resolution. Political interests and hidden agendas keep conspiracy theories alive.

“In the field it is crucial that CMI does not have an agenda of its own,” Uusitalo says. “Sometimes people even check on that. Once we attended a meeting and the participants told us that they had done a background check on us, which we had passed,” he laughs.

Born in Finnish Osthrobothnia, Uusitalo went on to have an international career spanning decades. Twenty years went by at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Red Cross until he was appointed as the head of the European Commission’s delegation to Sri Lanka.

The career continued via Pakistan to Iraq in 2006. “It was indeed a historical time to work in Iraq after Saddam’s regime had collapsed.”

“CMI’s asset is that we can truly talk to everyone.”

At the moment, Iraq faces many challenges: a new political era has begun after the elections last year, the armed group ISIS is a real threat and the price of oil is in a downward spiral.

CMI supports the country’s national reconciliation process. Uusitalo’s networks and his solid experience are valuable. “It is amazing how many of my old contacts in Iraq are still involved in politics.”

NGOs cannot solve conflicts alone

The situation in the Middle East worries Uusitalo. The crisis in Syria is far from being solved and the military involvement of Saudi Arabia in Yemen will polarise the tensions in the region.

“It is clear that NGOs cannot solve conflicts alone. We need different kinds of actors, official and unofficial tracks and hybrid know-how,” Uusitalo says. “CMI’s asset is that we can truly talk to everyone. This luxury is not possible for many state actors.”

Ilkka Uusitalo works as CMI’s senior adviser in the Middle East team, North Africa and the Sahel team as well as in our EU related work.

This story was first published as part of CMI’s annual report in May 2015.