Reconciliation after IS. MERI Forum 16, S3

Date: 26th October 2016
MERI Forum 2016

In this panel:

Lise Grande, UN’s Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General
Falah Mustafa, Minister, Head of Department of Foreign Affairs, KRG
Osama Al-Gharizi, United States Institute for Peace (USIP), USA
Mohammed Salman, National Reconciliation Committee in Prime Minister’s Office
Otmar Oehring, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Germany (Chair)
*Paper presentation:
Dave van Zoonen, Research Fellow, MERI
Haider Ibrahimi, Executive Director of Sanad for Peacebuilding

This is a summary of the panel discussion, please find the full video of the debates and Q&A above.

Iraq, in particular the North, is home to a rich tapestry of demographics: Sunni and Shia Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Kaka’i, Sabian-Mandaeans, Faili Kurds and more. Inter-community relations have been severely affected by years of sectarian violence and ethnic strife, and most recently, the take-over of large parts of the country by the Islamic State (IS). The extreme level of violence unleashed on anyone not adhering to their extremist ideology, including many Sunni Arabs, has given rise to new grievances that leave scars which will be borne by victims for decades to come. The panel addressed the following questions: how to recover from this collective trauma and work towards peaceful coexistence? How to rebuild trust between communities and instil relations with tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation so as to create an enabling environment for stability and safe return for the thousands of displaced families? Answering these questions helps us determine whether we can turn this black page in Iraq’s history books, or whether the military defeat of IS will merely usher in a new chapter of bloodshed.

The panel began with a paper presentation from Dave van Zoonen, Research Fellow at MERI, on reconciliation in Nineveh and the KRI. He emphasised that trust needs to be forged at different levels; not only between the Sunni Arab component and other communities, but also between minorities and the government, and between different minority groups. Additionally, van Zoonen raised awareness concerning the dangerous levels of polarisation within communities in Sinjar and Nineveh plain, and emphasised the need to recognise the suffering that the Sunni Arab communities have also endured. He stressed that reconciliation is a long-term process and cautioned national and international peacebuilders against pursuing overly ambitious objectives from the outset as many victims are not yet ready to forgive perpetrators of war crimes. Hence, the concept of reconciliation should initially not be connected to elements such as forgiveness but rather advanced by setting more modest and realistic goals aimed at simply reconnecting communities in the socio-economic sphere.

Haider Ibrahimi argued that although it is important to remember that ‘reconciliation is a long-term process’, Sandad for Peacebuilding have been working alongside USIP with tribes in Nineveh to ‘try and solve the problems and resolve issues’. He stressed the central role of the tribes and was optimistic about the prospect of reconciliation: ‘I believe we can create peace in these different communities (Anbar, Salahaddin, etc.) through hard work’.

The discussion was then opened up for the panellists.  Lise Grande highlighted the importance of the role of the UN in Iraq in order to ‘bring Iraqi leaders together for dialogue’, and to ‘continue to help strengthen and support institutions’ and to help establish a community archive to record the suffering of communities. She concluded that ‘if communities rebuild together rather than separately the reconciliation process will be easier’.

Falah Mustafa echoed Ibrahimi’s sentiment that ‘there is no quick fix’ to reconciliation in Nineveh Plain and Shingal, although he called for action to ‘confront the problems’. He discussed the recent passing of the anti-alcohol law by the Iraqi Parliament as a threat to minority communities and argued that the rise of ethno-sectarianism in Iraq is the symptom of the failure of nationhood in the country, suggesting the solution can be partially found in education which can create ‘mutual understanding, dialogue and trust’.

The discussion then focused on the differing views of what reconciliation should comprise of with the intervention of USIP’s Osama al-Ghaziri. Al-Ghaziri emphasised that although bottom-up community processes led by actors like SANAD and UNDP are important, they need to be complemented by a top-down national reconciliation effort. He concluded a reconciliation process needs to focus on three aspects: the relationship between communities, developing mechanisms to peacefully resolve disputes, and institutional or structural reform. Finally, the Iraqi National Reconciliation Office representative Mohammed Salman started by acknowledging the challenges faced by minorities as a result of competition by majority components in Iraq. He noted that reconciliation will be difficult as long as ‘one group or political party tries to impose itself on another.’ It is important for the Shiite and Sunni parties to come together in Baghdad and discuss their long-term vision for the country. He claimed UNAMI could be instrumental in promoting reconciliation between the two sides and function as an intermediary to prevent misconceptions and distrust.

Otmar Oehring, who was chairing the session, pressed on the panellists not only to speak of plans and concrete first steps for reconciliation in the future, but also to elaborate on what has already been done and why. Consequently, the discussion served to inform the audience about the different views and experience of the panellists while providing concrete visions as to how reconciliation after IS should be pursued, and how communities can be reconnected with each other.

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