Iraqi reconciliation: A necessity, not an option
Recently there has been serious discussion among various political factions in Iraq about the possibility of political reunification after the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS).
The National Iraqi Alliance, a major Shia electoral bloc consisting of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and other Shia political parties, drafted a proposal for a “historic settlement” for national reconciliation. The plan designates the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) as the mediator between Iraqi subgroups.
UNAMI has pledged to rally political support for national reconciliation and to involve local institutions, the Arab League, Islamic organisations and the governments of nearby states in the process.
However, many, like Mouayad al-Windawi, retired major-general of the Iraqi General Security Directorate and a former political officer with the UNAMI, say a comprehensive proposed reconciliation agreement between Iraqi religious and ethnic groups could, along with political, economic and social reforms by the Iraqi government, free Iraqi society from sectarian conflict.
UNAMI, which has no reconciliation plan of its own, oversaw the creation of the Shia “historic settlement” proposal because the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked it do so.
Abadi emphasised in January the need for “social reconciliation” in Iraq after the fall of ISIS, a point he reaffirmed at the Munich Security Conference in February.
Reconciliation at the national level rests on respect and cooperation between individuals, ethnic and religious communities, tribal blocs, political parties and the ruling government.
In other words, it entitles each citizen to the freedoms of speech, thought and representation. To facilitate this, differing opinions should be welcomed as a part of a hiwar watani — a “national dialogue.”
In a move damaging to the promotion of such a dialogue, the Iraqi government last November passed the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) law. The measure designated Shia militias — mainly Iranian-backed militias — as the official, independent Iraqi army. Sunni politicians protested the government, citing the PMF’s incompetence and its inability to provide security for the country.
Iraqi Sunni Vice-President Osama al-Nujaifi in November said the Shia faction has not listened to Sunnis’ objections to the law. In protest, he refused to receive the historical settlement proposal presented by the National Iraqi Alliance.
Other Sunnis in Iraq are willing to cooperate and work towards reconciliation. Independent Iraqi politician and former member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives Hussein al-Falluji wrote a pro-Sunni reconciliation proposal. He said any reconciliation settlement should be based on two pillars: The construction of state institutions based on the concept of Iraqi citizenship and a historic compromise among all the components of Iraqi society in order to overcome structural imbalances.
Mohammed al-Karbouli, chairman of al-Hal parliamentary bloc, said the document is similar to the final draft of the reconciliation paper, which is to be handed soon to the United Nations. He added that it represented the opinions of most of the Sunni factions, including Nujaifi.
The Sunnis advocated repeal of the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which have been abused along sectarian lines and that served as justification for the arrest of thousands of innocent people.
The Sunnis also requested the enactment of a new general amnesty law; constitutional amendments, including one that would divide power equally between the parliament and the president; the return of displaced Iraqis to their homes; a moratorium on the establishment of new autonomous regions; the adoption of fairer election laws; judicial review of the accountability and justice law; and the reinstatement of jobs and pensions to low-ranking members of the ousted Ba’ath Party.
The defeat of ISIS is unlikely to bring stability and security to Iraq in and of itself. The country will only improve if dominant groups promote transitional justice, coordinate the reconstruction of destroyed areas, ensure weapons remain in the hands of the military (and not sectarian ethnic militias), build unbiased state institutions that respect all citizens and decentralise enough to let local communities pursue their own interests.
Iraq needs international support to ensure more equitable distribution of power and resources, meaning that all Iraqi communities would be fairly represented in a future government.
US President Donald Trump’s adviser to the Middle East, Walid Phares, is to meet with representatives of Iraq’s Christian faction. He should seize the opportunity to initiate a dialogue with the Sunni groups and become better acquainted with their positions.
The Trump administration should similarly advocate for regional peace and security, as ISIS’s presence there is unlikely to weaken unless there are region-wide reforms.