The path to real national reconciliation in Iraq
There have been increasing calls for national reconciliation in Iraq, particularly from Shia-led political parties such as Ammar Al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. This comes at a time when the Mosul offensive is in full swing and Iraq’s politicians are looking ahead to the post-Islamic State (ISIS) reality.
Of course, calls such as this have been issued in the past and they were issued for the same reason — to push for an increasingly sectarian political system not for any real reconciliation.
What kind of national reconciliation is being called for? Is this a political or social reconciliation? And between who? Are we talking of an ethnic reconciliation between Iraq’s different ethnic groups, between Arabs and Kurds? Or a sectarian one, between Sunnis and Shias? Just what will the political atmosphere be like in a post-ISIS Iraq?
One view is that there was never historically any ethnic or sectarian conflict in Iraq and any tensions were purely political even if the parties involved were raising ethnic or sectarian slogans. It was the Americans who imposed the Shia- Sunni-Kurdish political formula that has ruled the country since 2003. It was this overtly sectarian formula that ultimately led to the rise of the sectarian project and the establishment of Shia parties.
Over the past 15 years or so, we have seen these parties ruling in the name of sectarianism but failing to secure anything for their homeland. We saw the drafting of an ambiguous constitution that blessed this new era of sectarianism, rather than seeking to promote unity and citizenship. This, of course, led to even greater ethnic and sectarian tensions and divisions to the point that Iraq’s Kurds are eyeing independence and its Sunnis and Shias are locked in ceaseless political battle.
Post-2003 Arab Sunnis, who had been on top for so long under Saddam Hussein, found themselves at the mercy of Iraq’s Shias, who were handed the reins of power. The so-called de- Ba’athification law was particularly harmful and used to settle scores, plunging the country into chaos after the military and security apparatus was effectively disbanded. At the same time, there was increasing nepotism and corruption by those who were new to power and knew that they now had a free hand to do as they liked.
This led to the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the mid-2000s. It was eventually defeated, thanks to the efforts of Sunni Arab tribes and the Anbar Awakening. However, there were always complaints that these Awakening forces were not receiving support from the authorities and they were disbanded by Baghdad’s sectarian government after their victory that refused to integrate them into the security services.
We saw the return of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the guise of ISIS, with many analysts making a direct link between Baghdad’s policies towards Arab Sunnis and the rise of ISIS, which is said to be made-up of former Ba’athists, angry local Sunni Arabs and foreign fighters.
So, if Arab Sunnis felt humiliated and disenfranchised in Iraq, what about after the defeat of ISIS? All signs indicate that there is scant chance that Iraq’s government is set to change its policies towards the Sunnis. We are potentially looking at even greater ethnic and sectarian tensions, as can be seen in the prominent role that the Shia-led Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) are playing in the liberation of Mosul.
Have those who are calling for national reconciliation issued any guarantees that the future will be different from the past? That they intend to abandon their sectarian policies to welcome the disenfranchised Sunnis into the fold of a pluralistic society that does not discriminate against them? Will the PMF be disbanded in the same way that its Sunni counterparts, the Awakening Movement, was, or will their new powers be formalised?
Real reconciliation would mean to heal Iraq’s shattered infrastructure and social cohesion, which was destroyed by sectarianism. Real reconciliation would be assuring every Iraqi — whatever his or her faith or ethnic or sectarian background — that they would be treated equally on the basis of citizenship alone.
Real reconciliation would be the inception of a new political system that does away with sectarianism and achieves social justice and freedom. Is the national reconciliation that is being called for the same thing?