Perceptions of Reconciliation and Conflict Among Iraqi Minority Groups

Project Description

Full Title: Perceptions of Reconciliation and Conflict Among Iraqi Minority Groups
Lead Fellow: Dave van Zoonen & Khogir Wirya Mohammed
Project in Brief: This research aims at understanding perceptions of reconciliation and conflict among five minority groups in the North of Iraq. Those groups include Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Sabean-Mandaeans. The Islamic State’s advances in 2014, paired with the political and economic crises that have bedevilled Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, exacerbated communal relationships among the communities who have been living in the North of Iraq and may incite new tensions if left unchecked. The Middle East Research Institute (MERI), in conjunction with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) seeks to examine intra- and inter- relationships among those minority groups as well as their relations with both The Central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Term: April – August (2016)
Most Recent: Publications and Events


As the war with ISIL in Iraq moves into its third year, international and local stakeholders have begun to recognise the challenges inherent to emerging processes of return to communities of origin. The nature of the conflict with ISIL, coupled with the political and economic crises facing Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region and disputed territories, and the long-standing historic grievances based on tribal, ethnic, religious, and political identities, among others, has the potential to further exacerbate existing social tensions and incite new ones. These include the perception by some minority groups that Sunni Arab families were complicit in the crimes of ISIL, as well as the ensuing competition over power and resources resulting from the rupture of the political status quo and the prevailing sense of insecurity following ISIL’s takeover.

If left unchecked, these tensions have the potential to spiral Iraq further into conflict, even as ISIL is being pushed back. To mitigate this and to further establish civic trust within and between communities, as well as between communities and the state, stabilisation efforts must pay heed to addressing potential drivers of conflict and focus on reconciling those communities at risk for violence outside of and within liberated areas. In order to do this and ensure a rights-based, sustainable stabilisation process, more up-dated, in-depth and nuanced understanding is needed on what long-standing and new conflicts exist between and within groups, particularly minorities, and what ‘reconciliation’ means to them within this time and place.

The Project

Reconciliation is invariably context dependent and driven by divergent community views. Therefore, this assessment is aimed at understanding what reconciliation means to five different minority groups (Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Turkmen and Sabean-Mandaeans), their representatives, and authorities at the local and national levels, as well as gaining insight into existing and potential drivers of conflict. The purpose is to uncover both commonalities and differences between and among groups with respect to reconciliation; how differences can be overcome; and what obstacles and opportunities exist in bringing groups together at the community and political levels.

In carrying out this research, MERI will be collecting qualitative data across Northern Iraq and the Kurdistan Region with minority communities currently displaced and their representatives, with officials in Nineveh and Kirkuk; and officials from the KRG as well as the Federal Government. Data collection will be primarily conducted through a combination of semi-structured interviews with community leaders and a series of focus groups among community members. All data collected will be anonymous and with informed consent established. The study aims to obtain a sample that is representative of gender, age and rural-urban characteristics within the target communities.

The project runs from April to August 2015 and culminates in the delivery of a final report including a mapping of existing conflicts within and between minority groups, as well as other main findings of the interviews and focus groups. The report’s ultimate objective is to contribute to both USIP’s and MERI’s understanding of the current conflict and the relationships between groups, in turn leading to more informed and targeted efforts of reconciliation.

Project Funding

The research for this project has been commissioned and funded by United States Institute for Peace (USIP).

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