The defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq alone is unlikely to bring stability and security to the country.
More than three million Iraqis have been displaced as a result of the war against IS, many of whom now live in deplorable conditions, forced to move from camp to camp, brave cold weather, without healthcare, education or other basic necessities.
The defeat of IS in Iraq alone is unlikely to bring stability and security to the country
After IS is defeated, conditions for those displaced - and for all Iraqis - will only improve if the political will is maintained to promote transitional justice, coordinate the reconstruction of destroyed areas, ensure weapons remain in the hands of the military (and not sectarian ethnic militias), build unbiased state institutions that respect all citizens, and decentralise power in order to give local communities the freedom to pursue their own interests.
Earlier this year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi emphasised the need for “social reconciliation” after the fall of IS and the importance of community reconciliation in Iraq, a point he reaffirmed at the Munich Security Conference in February
Along with political, economic and social reforms carried out by the Iraqi government, many Iraqis believe that, between two recently proposed agreements – one from a major Shia electoral bloc and a pro-Sunni proposal published for the first time here - a middle ground can be found that will free Iraqi society from its sectarian conflicts and bring about a peaceful social order.
But how do we get from the fall of IS to a final agreement?
A brief history of reconciliation efforts
Cohesion is missing in Iraq for many reasons, mainly the hampering of the country’s political system by ethnic sectarian conflicts between Iraqi communities and the interventions of neighbouring countries.
In recent months, there have been serious discussions among members of several different political factions in Iraq about the possibility of a political reunification settlement after the defeat of IS.
In October, according to the most recent UN secretary-general report, Jan Kubis, the appointed special representative for Iraq, met with Iraqi interlocutors, including “the parliamentary majority bloc, the National Alliance, and its newly elected chair, Ammar al-Hakim, to advance national reconciliation”.
Kubis stressed that sustainable peace and security could be achieved only through tolerance, cooperation and a reconciliation plan based on equality and justice.
Later that month, the National Iraq Alliance (NIA), a major Shia electoral bloc consisting of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and other Shia political parties, authored a document called the “historical settlement”.
It described their plan for national reconciliation after the defeat of IS and designated the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) as the would-be mediator between all Iraqi sub-groups.
At the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, UNAMI pledged to rally political support for the proposed settlement and to involve the Arab League, Islamic organisations and the governments of nearby states in the process.
UNAMI, for its part, still has no vision for a reconciliation programme of its own, but would only function as a courier carrying proposals from one faction to another.
The expected turbulence
But these positive efforts towards dialogue were damaged when the Iraqi government passed the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) law on 26 November, which designated Shia militias – mainly Iranian-backed militias – as part of the official, independent Iraqi army.
The majority does not have the right to determine the fate of everyone else
Sunni politicians protested the passing of the law, citing the PMUs' incompetence and their inability to provide sufficient security in the country.
"I believe this committee has been politically motivated and it will have a similar impact as Iran's Revolutionary Guards,” Raad al-Dahlaki, a Sunni member of parliament, said after the law passed. “(It) aims to weaken the Iraqi army.”
Iraq's Sunni vice president, Osama al-Nujaifi, said that the Shia faction had not listened to Sunni objections to the law.
"The majority does not have the right to determine the fate of everyone else," Nujaifi said.
In an act of defiance, he refused to receive the National Alliance’s “historical settlement” proposal.
In February, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr presented his own reconciliation proposal – "Initial Solutions", a proposal that has been criticised and rejected by the National Iraq Alliance (NIA). Having already proposed their own agreement and already working towards mobilising it, the NIA believe Al-Sadr’s proposal will not work with their comprehensive solution.
On the other hand, al-Nujaifi believes Al-Sadr could be a better friend to the Sunni groups than the NIA and his proposal could easily meet the major demands of the Sunni blocs such as his stance against the PMU law.
The Sunni vision
Despite these tensions, other Sunnis in Iraq are still willing to cooperate and work towards reconciliation.
Independent Iraqi politician and former member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Hussein al-Falluji, authored a pro-Sunni reconciliation proposal, which has since been leaked to Iraqi officials.
The Sunnis advocated repealing the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which they believe have been abused along sectarian lines
When I spoke to him in Amman early this January, al-Falluji said that the “historical settlement” should be based on two pillars: the construction of state institutions based on the concept of Iraqi citizenship, and a historic compromise between all the components of Iraqi society in order to overcome its structural imbalances.
“The Sunni Arabs,” he added, “have a clear vision … for ensuring unanimous decisions on political, social, economic, and security-related issues.”
Mohammad al-Karbouli, chairman of the Al-Hal parliamentary bloc, claimed in a phone interview with an Iraqi newspaper in January that the leaked document is similar to the final version which will be handed over soon to the UN. He added that the paper represented the opinions of most politicians in the Sunni faction, including Osama al-Najaifi, Iraq’s vice president.
The Sunnis advocated repealing the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which they believe have been abused along sectarian lines and which served as justification for the arrest of thousands of innocent people.
The Sunni proposal also requests the enactment of a new general amnesty law and several constitutional amendments including a mixed parliamentary system that shares power equally between the president and parliament, the return of displaced Iraqis to their homes, a moratorium on the establishment of new autonomous regions until a political settlement has been reached, the adoption of fairer election laws, and the transfer of the “accountability and justice law” to a judicial body to reinstate jobs and pensions to low-ranking members of the ousted Baath Party.
Trump's plan in Iraq?
President Donald Trump’s adviser to the Middle East, Walid Phares, should seize this opportunity to initiate a dialogue with the Sunni groups and become better acquainted with their positions.
IS is unlikely to weaken unless there are region-wide reforms
Phares is now planning to meet with representatives of Iraq’s Christian community to determine the future of the Nineveh Plains, a region located north of Mosul with a large Christian population.
Mouayad al-Windawi, retired major-general of the Iraqi General Security Directorate and a former political officer with UNAMI, said in an interview that Iraqis “badly need the support of international professional institutions, crisis management teams and peacebuilding and transitional justice-related organisations”.
The UN Security Council’s support will also be required, he said.
Ideally, this support would ensure more equitable distribution of power and resources, meaning that all Iraqi communities would be fairly represented in a future ruling government.
To these ends, the Iraqi government should cooperate with the international community and establish ethnic, national, and regional solidarity against future threats to Iraq and the region.
The United States, under the Trump administration, should similarly advocate regional peace and security, as the presence of the IS group is unlikely to weaken unless there are region-wide reforms.
- Khairuldeen al-Makhzoomi holds a degree in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Literature from UC Berkeley. He is currently working on research into obstacles to national reconciliation in Iraq. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, his articles also appeared in The Arab Weekly, Foreign Policy Journal and Berkeley Political Review.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.