Since 2003 Iraq has seen significant growth in its economy and steady progress with the development of democracy. However recent events have shown that these gains are reversible and that the underlying foundations are not yet strong enough. The fall of Mosul in June 2014 was a watershed moment and Iraq’s politicians must now make the decisions that will either build Iraq or break it up.
Views differ on whether the Islamic State terrorist group has united the citizens of Iraq beyond the physical confrontation or not. The way to go forward is to conduct a nationwide survey of attitudes, by an independent body, such as an NGO or UN agency, and then analysing how Iraqis view each other and the state. Each month thousands of Iraqis are being killed because of ongoing violence.
Since 2006 the Iraqi government has received over $550bn in revenues without making a noticeable impact on basic services for all citizens. Reconciliation is a must for stability otherwise the high cost in civilian life and the wealth of the country will continue. The current environment does not allow for a complete reconciliation with elements of the previous regime and across all sects, so there must be ways in which partial or indirect reconciliation is attempted.
Pushing for laws in parliament and official government committees on reconciliation is a time-consuming process and it is in the interest of most politicians to appeal to the fears of their electorate and delay such moves. There are accumulative international evidences linking development and prosperity of a nation to social cohesion and rule of law.
Reconciliation without good governance and respect for rule of law has no value. Current political participation is based on sectarian quotas and while there is a détente in some aspects, it is not really reconciliation at all. Measuring the cost of conflict by an independent body may visualise the damage that the violence is doing to Iraq.
All countries with internal conflict gained by having reconciliation, whether South Africa, Rwanda, Cambodia, or Guatemala. The Government is optimistic that it will succeed in uniting the country with its current measure, but what if the government fails, what are the consequences? Iraq is a multi-confessional state and the propensity for violence and sectarian conflict is high.
Being a majority Muslim country there is a lot that can be learned from Islamic history on reconciliation. The Prophet’s treaty with the Quraysh known as Sulh al-Hudaibiya was based on the principle of non-violence. His stance upon entering Makkah victoriously was to forgive his enemies and treat them as Joseph treated his brothers.
In this light the religious authorities have a role in helping reconciliation take place, as they have shown both their wisdom and power in post-2003 Iraq. But reconciliation will only be useful if it strengthens the rule of law, otherwise Iraq will continue to be plagued with mismanagement. In terms of theory, Iraq as a democracy is arguably the best in the region but in application it is one of the worst because there is no rule of law.
It is ranked in the bottom 5% of all nations by the World Bank for rule of law. Reconciliation helps instate the rule of law and apply it, but does not guarantee it. Bosnia is an example of how reconciliation without rule of law does not lead to much progress. Rwanda on the other hand is a great example of a country that is making excellent progress because reconciliation has led to the rule of law being upheld.
It is important to note that reconciliation in Iraq should be carried out alongside the judicial process and those convicted of crimes should face justice, but communities should also find means of healing so that they respect each other and not just tolerate. There are some practical examples that have been successful in other countries of how to help achieve reconciliation:
Promote intermarriage by offering financial rewards to assist with ceremonies
Set up local multi-sect committees to organise religious festivals and activities, similar to Northern Ireland. This will help increase communication and working together
Set up a national citizenship committee to promote good citizens, awarding citizens with distinguished achievement
Rotate all local government posts that are non-elected between different sects on a bi-annual schedule Teach a new citizenship course in schools that promotes peace toward all faiths and harmony between sects
Ban all religious and political media channels that focus on sectarian divisions and scrutinize imams and prayer leader speeches to prevent hate speech
Reduce the amount of holidays given for religious occasions and control the amount of religious symbolism on streets
Set up monthly town halls that rotate around the country to include interfaith leaders, politicians, and artists
Build new developments/towns that give housing equally to all sects and allow them to live together peacefully
There is a good opportunity for the government to achieve real reconciliation and the Prime Minister has received praise for his efforts so far. But eradicating corruption and upholding the rule of law are also the necessary steps in building Iraq and this needs both citizens and politicians to make a real effort.
Kamal Field is Director of Research at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform (IIER). Sajad Jiyad is a research fellow at IIER and can be followed on Twitter @SajadJiyad.