In late 2003 the Feinstein International Famine Center, in partnership with institutions in London, Geneva and Washington, organised a series of consultations on the future of humanitarian action post-Iraq. This article is based on those discussions. A number of recurring concerns are elaborated, ranging from the perception of humanitarianism as a Northern-driven and Northern-controlled enterprise, through the politicisation of security and the devaluation of the protective power of emblems, to the very nature of how the crisis in Iraq is perceived. The article explores the implications of such issues for humanitarian workers and their institutions. It concludes by framing an agenda for action by the humanitarian sector.