What can Iraqis learn from Rwanda?

The militias, as well as all other foreign forces in Iraq, should have disappeared with the end of the war on the Islamic State.
Thursday 18/04/2019
 A militiaman with Popular Mobilisation Forces poses with a weapon next to his father's poster in his home in Basra. (AP)
A militiaman with Popular Mobilisation Forces poses with a weapon next to his father's poster in his home in Basra. (AP)

Rwanda, the African country most notorious for genocide and ethnic cleansing, recently commemorated the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the civil war between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. About 1 million Tutsis were killed in the fighting in the ugliest forms of disregard for human life, victims of old rancour and a culture of hatred.

Rwanda was swept into poverty, extreme hunger, illiteracy and despair until a turn of events led to building a state based on learning the lessons of years of ruin and chaos and on learning from the experiences of other countries, without prejudice or arguing.

Rwanda has taken courageous steps in uprooting unjust policies of its painful past and starting the process of a social reconciliation built on a legal and constitutional vision that forbids hateful and racist discourse.

Since then, Rwanda has made great strides on the path to development. It is leading its African environment in terms of tourism and of facilitating investment opportunities. Kigali has been classified as the most beautiful, cleanest and safest capital in the continent.

Rwanda even launched its first communication satellite in February, a device that will serve in the development of education and in bridging the digital divide between urban and rural and remote areas.

Iraq can learn from the Rwandan experience. It can learn, above all, that it is best to bury rancour and vengeance by deciding not to return to conditions that caused the savagery that had turned Rwanda in just a few months into a powerful lesson for the entire world.

When civil war broke out in Rwanda, all diplomatic missions, as well as whatever was left of the international forces there, were withdrawn. In some way or another, foreign missions in Rwanda had helped it to get to where it is now but during its tragedy Rwanda was left facing its destiny alone and it had to find on its own the appropriate solutions for its ills.

Iraq is diverse nationally, religiously, racially and ethnically. This diversity has often obviated the importance of strength in numbers and of solidarity, as found in the current schizophrenic approach to power, which resulted in the rooting of the essence of division and divisiveness in the country’s constitution during the sectarian turmoil following the US occupation.

At the time, pro-Iranian sectarian parties imposed this divisiveness and the United States did not object to that approach knowing that it would lead to the gradual paralysis of Iraq’s security, military and civilian institutions.

After 16 years of experiencing the results of the US occupation, the ruling minority in Iraq settled on concepts that were not marred by the calculations and distortions of the governments of the occupation.

Under those governments, cleansing operations, documented in the speeches of party and militia leaders, were carried out. Politicians and militia leaders used the trick of brandishing the slogan of war on terror to carry out systematic sectarian cleansing and benefit of international support and give the pro-Iranian militias a free hand in the country. Those militias are the alter ego of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are protected by law and, more important, by the country’s sectarian authority.

At the end of the civil war that claimed more lives than the Rwandan massacre, the ruling minority in Iraq chose to protect its interests and privileges by a full-fledged, minority-based political system, in total disregard for the majority of the Iraqi people, a majority that can, at any critical moment, decide the fate and future of Iraq.

A moment’s reflection on the way Iraq is being administered shows the dilemma of the absence of sovereignty and unity in crucial national decisions. This is because of the confusion reigning between the positions and decisions of the presidencies of the three branches of government. On the same single issue, each branch would take a position determined by regional and international developments.

Since April 2003, Iraqis have been fatefully caught in the trap of a dual occupation. Any national political system should not be ready to compromise on the principle of "Iraq first" in response to dictates or recommendations from the Iranian regime, especially when the dictates go against the interests of the Iraqi people, their dignity and their sovereignty. It should not even envision misleading the people by playing with concepts and words in order to justify its loyalty to a foreign power, be it America or Iran.

If we want a real state in Iraq, we must recognise that Iraq is slipping back to proxy wars on its territory. The blueprints of Iraq’s previous disasters show that the Iranian regime is in control of Iraq.

Iraq is basically administered by the sectarian religious authority. We can see that in speeches by parliament members and senior officials praising Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and thanking him for guaranteeing security in Baghdad and the whole of Iraq. Not long ago, it was Shia authorities in Najaf who were the recipients of that praise.

A state without a vision and a project of its own and for its people will remain locked in the projects and agendas of others. A country with more than 60 militias taking their orders straight from the Iranian representative in Iraq is bound to experience armed conflicts, assassinations, skirmishes, clashes, violent fatwas and interventions by major powers.

The Iraqi state is not ready to disarm the ideological and sectarian militias in the country, by either enforcing the law or through agreements, and out of patriotism or concern for its future generations. It cannot do that because it is bound by the fatwa from the Shia authority in Najaf, even though this jihad fatwa was issued for the war on the Islamic State.

The truth, however, is that the militias are loyal to the Iranian regime whose agenda is not limited to Iraq and the region. These militias, as well as all other foreign forces in Iraq, should have disappeared with the end of the war on the Islamic State.

In general, the concept of nation-building does not go beyond the boundaries of national interests. When we accept that, we can raise our heads high and not hesitate to learn from other peoples’ experiences wherever they may be.

Rwanda has gone through the tragedy of genocide then recovered through awareness raising and development. It is time for Iraq to shake off the shackles and humiliation of occupation and recognise the virtue of admitting errors that amount to crimes against humanity.