On Wednesday, January 25th, EPIC Director Erik Gustafson and I attended an extraordinary program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) exploring what brings young people together in Iraq and the region, and the role youth are playing in creating social change. Titled Next Generation of Peacebuilding and Social Change in the Arab World, the program featured a special screening of Salam Shabab; a groundbreaking reality TV series about young Iraqi peacebuilders, followed by a fascinating panel discussion with the show’s creators and producers who shared a behind-the-scenes look at what went into developing the show’s concept and creating the series, highlights of their experience working with young Iraqi contestants from different parts of Iraq, and the series’ impact on contestants and studio audiences. The event concluded with an inspiring panel of celebrated social and political activists from across the Middle East and a live performance by the Iraqi pop band UTN1.
As a fan of the show, I was particularly interested in the Production Q&A. The speakers not only shared their experiences working with the youth but also their dreams and goals for the show. It was inspirational to hear the show’s producer, Hussam Hadi, elaborate on their goal of showcasing real kids with whom the audience can identify that speak their feelings honestly in a way the audience can learn from.
The show’s creators describe Salam Shabab as an experiment. They wanted to research the impact of team building exercises on Iraqi children’s sense of self esteem, self awareness, and self expression. They also wanted to develop the children’s personal responsibility and decision making, self efficacy, and an understanding of their common humanity. They exhaustively researched how the participants grew, testing them both before and after their participation in the project. As a result of all their hard work, the youths not only developed those skills, they also enjoyed themselves.
The audience seemed particularly interested in how the boys and girls interacted with one another, if there was tension or an unwillingness to work together between boys and girls. Mr. Hadi assured us that, once they got away from their parents, the kids on the show were absolutely normal 15 year-olds. They interacted well and made friends with each other without consideration of ethnicity, sect, or gender. In fact, the winners from last year who became the Ambassadors of Peace to the Iraqi Parliament were a mixed gender team and included a Sunni, a Shi’ite, and a Christian.
Moderated by professor of Arab media Adel Iskandar of Georgetown University, the second panel discussion focused on “Youth and the Arab Spring”, featuring celebrated activist and blogger Rami Nakhla, the head of foreign relations office for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Twitter VIP with over 45,000 followers (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) Maryam Alkhawaja, and former lead singer for UTN1 Hassam al-Faluji. These dynamic panelists discussed the aspirations of young people in their homelands, the role of youth and social media in creating social change, and the importance of continued youth involvement in creating a more inclusive political culture both during and after revolutionary change. The panelists pointed out that the youth across the Middle East are too often perceived as a burden – rather than an asset – by their governments. The governing mentality is to control, limit and even bar young people’s involvement in politics and community affairs. Here are some other insights that these remarkable activists shared.
On Social Media and the Government:
The world is getting smaller because of social media. People are also becoming more informed. Music and art is becoming more accessible, both of which are big motivators for action and inspire change. (Hassan al Faluji)
In Bahrain, the youth are dependent on social media because they are largely ignored by the larger media. The youth always reach for the impossible, no offense to the older people… The worst mistake the government made was turning half of their citizens into activists and the other half into reporters. (Maryam Alkhawaja)
In Syria, people used the media to meet, the uprising was leaderless in beginning. Social media made it possible to coordinate. Regions formed committees that continue to this day. Seen as link between social media and the people, because the government’s control was crushing other outlets. (Rami Nakhla)
On the revolutions in Egypt, one year later:
Revolutions started out of dignity. We hated the fear, we couldn’t live with it anymore. Politics was a forbidden topic. We knew something was wrong but we didn’t know what. The uprisings gave the Syrian people hope, as did the overthrow of the Tunisian president. The Syrian people are deeply wounded today, we can never go back to the way things used to be. We have a responsibility to them. (Rami Nakhla)
For me, it’s all about dignity. That’s why [the uprising] has continued despite the crackdowns. There was a mind shift: they were too afraid to speak about politics but not anymore. Once the fear barrier was broken, there was no going back. Now, it’s like, if they think it, they write it down and hold to up. (Maryam Alkhawaja)
Fighting for a dream gives your life meaning. Keep fighting no matter what. Social media keeps the dream alive, unfortunately occassionaly the media has a double standard. (Hassan al Faluji)
Leaders brainwashed their people to make their enemies traitors. Many Syrians take bad words and turn them into jokes. (Rami Nakhla)
Joke about it. I have been called an Israeli spy, a CIA spy, and an Iranian spy, so I joke about it by saying that there are a lot of governments out there that owe me money. (Maryam Alkhawaja)
Art and music can help overcome: music echos the revolution and gives more power to the people. (Hassan al Faluji)
A final message to all Arab youth:
“Do not believe anyone but Google. Six years ago when the Syrian leader died I cried my eyes out. Several years after that I learned from Google that he had tortured and murdered thousands of people. Never believe anything until you check it yourself.” (Rami Nakhla)
One word: unity. The governments are very good at uniting and standing against their people, therefore we cannot allow ourselves to be divided. (Maryam Alkhawaja)
We all deserve the same chances, everything is possible in this world. (Hassan al Faluji)
This Saturday, provincial council elections will be held in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Early balloting has already taken place for Iraqi prisoners, hospital patients, and nearly 600,000 members of Iraq’s security forces.
Voting in the three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government — Irbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah — will take place later this year. Voting in the disputed province of Tamim (Kirkuk) is postponed indefinitely.
Throughout the rest of the country, some 14,400 candidates representing over 400 political entities are contesting 440 provincial council seats. Each provincial council will comprise 25 seats plus one additional seat per 200,000 people in the province.
The largest province by population, Baghdad, will have 57 council members. The other 13 participating provinces will have an average number of 30 council members. Unlike Iraq’s previous provincial elections in January 2005, the candidates are no longer faceless. They are reaching out to the grassroots, holding rallies and candidate forums, and responding to constituent demands for jobs and the provision of essential services. Public anger over perceived corruption and mismanagement by Baghdad’s ruling parties is expected to drive high voter turnout to the polls. Yet despite such public perceptions and desire for new leadership, the ruling parties are expected to perform well.
Voter registration reached 4.6 million before the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) decided to allow anyone over the age of 18 to vote. Thus as many as 17.2 million eligible voters could potentially turn out to the polls (although actual turnout will likely be closer to 10 million).
The IHEC is working to ensure voting rights for an estimated 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), establishing special polling stations throughout the country. Even in Iraqi Kurdistan where provincial elections are not scheduled to take place until later this year, 41 special polling stations have been set up for IDPs.
The IHEC has opened a total of 42,000 polling stations — approximately one polling station for every 400 eligible voters — in almost 7,000 locations. To reduce the incidence of fraud, each voter will be assigned to only one polling station. The IHEC has launched a voter education campaign, set up a toll-free information hotline, and posted a “poll station locater” on their website to help voters find their designated polling station.
Will the year of the ballot lead to a year of change in Iraq? Indeed, most Iraqis are dissatisfied with Iraq’s ruling parties. Common complaints include sectarian bias, corruption, and underperformance. According to a January 2009 nationwide poll of Iraqis conducted by NDI, only 34% of respondents expressed positive feelings toward the Council of Representatives. Another measure of public support for change: more than 75% of the 14,000-plus candidates and 400-plus political parties registered by the IHEC are new.
FROM CLOSED PARTY LISTS TO PARTIAL OPEN PARTY LISTS & CANDIDATES
Each provincial council will comprise 25 seats plus one additional seat per 200,000 people in the province. The largest province by population, Baghdad, will have 57 council members. The other 13 participating provinces will have an average number of 30 council members.
In January 2005, a closed-list system was used in the provincial elections. That meant that voters cast ballots for party lists, not candidates. The parties then decided which of their own candidates would fill the seats they had won. In the midst of growing violence, many Iraqis voted for the list that represented their ethnic or religious identity, contributing to an institutionalization of sectarian divisions. This time both party lists and individual candidates are listed, and issue politics are ascendant over sectarianism. Moreover, thanks to improving security in some areas of Iraq, candidates are less afraid of being publicly visible. Their faces can be seen on campaign posters covering blast walls and buildings, and they are reaching out directly to would-be constituents (see “This Time, Iraqis Hear and See Candidates” by Timothy Williams and Suadad al-Salhy, New York Times, 1/6/09).
Responding to a public backlash against the sectarianism that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007, most political parties and candidates are not defining themselves in sectarian terms. Aamer Madhani of USA Today reports: “The election campaign that is coming to a close in Iraq might be most notable for the relative absence of two words: ‘Shiite’ and ‘Sunni.’” Instead, candidates are focusing on constituent demands for jobs, improved public services, and solutions to other issues.Kim Gamel and Hamza Hendawi of the Scotsman report: “Candidates in this month’s Iraqi provincial elections are answering questions from voters and debating issues ranging from housing shortages to the need for foreign investment. This style of campaigning is new to Iraq, where candidates for the first time feel safe enough to canvass for votes and focus on grass-roots issues.”
REASONS FOR CONCERN
During the year of the ballot box, addressing the following concerns will help further a consolidation of Iraq’s democracy rather than it’s unraveling.
First, although less of a factor than in previous elections, political violence remains a wild card. Since late December, five candidates and one campaign manager have been assassinated. In late December, Mowaffaq al-Hamdani, a candidate with the Sunni Arab “Iraq for Us” party list, was shot dead in a café in the northern city of Mosul. On January 16th, Haitham al-Husseini, a leading candidate of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, was killed by armed gunmen in Babil province. On January 18th in Qayara south of Mosul, a suicide bomber killed Sheikh Hassan Zaidan al-Luhaibi, the campaign manager of Saleh al-Mutlaq’s National Dialogue Front in the northern provinces of Nineveh and Salahuddin. Rival political parties are suspected in all three of these attacks, yet no one has been charged with a crime.
[Updated on 1/30/09] On Thursday, three candidates running for provincial council seats were assassinated (see “Three Sunni Candidates Slain Days Before Elections” by Zaid Sabah and Qais Mizher, Washington Post, 1/30/09). In Mosul (Ninewa), gunmen killed Hazim Salim al-Zaidi, a former Iraqi army officer who was running on the “National Unity List” of independent Sunni candidates in Mosul, near his home. In the town of Mandali in Diyala province, Abbas Farhan, a candidate with the secular “National Movement of Reform and Development” party, was seized by armed assailants along with his brother and a cousin. Their bodies were later found nearby riddled with bullets. In Baghdad’s Amiriyah neighborhood, Omar Farouq al-Ani, a candidate with the Iraqi Islamic Party led by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, was killed in a drive-by shooting as he stepped from his home.
Second, there are no provisions for Iraqi refugees who remain outside Iraq to vote.Beth Ferris of Brookings writes: “This means that close to 10% of Iraq’s population will be disenfranchised.”
Third, without strong independent oversight, we could see a recurrence of voter intimidation and voting irregularities in some areas, especially in the Ninevah Plain region of Ninewa province (to the north and west of the city Mosul). The Ninevah Plain is home to large communities of Assyrian, Yezidi, Shabak, and Turkoman minorities. The U.S. Department of State’s 2005 Human Rights Country Report for Iraq states: In the January (2005) elections, many of the mostly non-Muslim residents on the Nineveh Plain were unable to vote. Some polling places did not open, ballot boxes were not delivered, and incidents of voter fraud and intimidation occurred. These problems resulted from administrative breakdowns on voting day and the refusal of Kurdish security forces to allow ballot boxes to pass to predominantly Christian villages.
Fourth, without a political party law, there are no restrictions on foreign funding. In fact, candidates and parties are not even required to divulge their funding sources. Given Iraq’s geography and what’s a stake — both economically and geo-politically — money is pouring in from Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and other foreign governments. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) led by Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was founded in Tehran in 1982 (under a different name) and continues to receive considerable funding from Iran. The Iraqi National Accord of Ayad Allawi has received support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, as well as covert assistance from Western intelligence agencies. The Iraqi Islamic Party of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi reportedly receives funding from Turkey, suggested by al-Hashimi’s regular trips to Istanbul. The U.S. military has funded tribal leaders who are running for office (see “Iraq Election Highlights Ascendancy of Tribes” by Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, 1/25/09).
Ideally, elections ought to be determined by “one person, one vote” and the candidate’s ability to mobilize volunteers and generate financial contributions from the electorate. In turn, that can strengthen the ties that bind elected officials to their constituents, enhancing the legitimacy and accountability of the government. Foreign funding can distort election outcomes to reflect the will of foreign capitols rather than the will of the people, and make elected officials answerable to foreign interests rather than their own constituents. As noted by Musings On Iraq, it can also create an unfair playing field for aspiring leaders: “While it’s often been repeated that over 14,000 candidates are running in the upcoming election, few of these newcomers can compete with the [Islamic] Supreme Council’s two satellite TV channels, dozens of local channels and newspapers, five women’s organization, three student groups, and over 1,000 offices in the south.”
Fifth, there have been scattered reports of vote-buying and other campaign violations. Common allegations and reported incidences include: promising land and jobs in exchange for votes; using gifts (phone cards being a popular choice) and cash payments to buy votes; arresting and intimidating opponents; posting campaign posters on government buildings; using religious figures to promote a candidate or party; and the use of Iraqi government money by Iraqi officials to campaign.
Finally and perhaps most significant, the current one-time provincial elections law favors Baghdad-backed big parties over newer, smaller ones. This might discourage voter turnout among Iraqis who are afraid their votes won’t count.
Under a unique ‘open-list proportional representation’ system to be used for the first time in Iraq, a voter can choose to cast their ballot for either an individual candidate or a party list. However, if a voter chooses to cast a ballot for an individual candidate, they must correctly mark the candidate’s corresponding party “list” affiliation or the ballot is considered invalid.
Under Iraq’s revised open-list structure, votes will be tallied and awarded according to the percentage of the votes a candidate receives. “If there are forty seats at stake, you have to get one-fortieth of the votes” in a given province to win one seat, Sam Parker [an Iraq analyst with the United States Institute of Peace] explains. This threshold of votes is known as the “electoral divider” in the provincial elections law. The rub, Parker says, is that if a candidate does not reach the electoral divider threshold, “you don’t get a seat, period.” And because of the disorganized and fractious nature of the emerging political landscape in Iraq, Parker says there are likely to be “a whole lot of wasted votes, people [in small or unknown parties] who don’t reach the threshold and don’t get seats.”
After the initial votes are tallied, some seats could be unfilled because larger parties might not tally 100 percent of the vote and smaller parties might not win enough votes to push them over the election threshold. These unfilled seats will be doled out on a proportional basis to the parties that won seats during the initial allocation. If, for instance, Prime Minister Maliki’s Dawa Party wins 40 percent of the seats in the initial round of vote counting in Basra, Dawa will then be awarded 40 percent of the empty seats. While legal, Parker says the result “is going to look unfair” to smaller parties that might claim they didn’t have enough time, or resources, to properly campaign for votes [READ MORE].
Aamer Madhani of USA Today reports: “Bahaa al-Araji, a Shiite legislator who is overseeing two lists, estimates that 1 million Iraqis will not see any of the candidates they vote for get a legislative seat. That could result in some unrest, al-Araji said. “After the election, it could be a very dark time in Iraq.””
THE BOTTOM LINE
The outcome of this week’s provincial elections will favor large, well-established parties over smaller newcomers, while helping to boost representation of Sunni Arabs who had largely boycotted Iraq’s previous provincial elections in 2005.
Later this year, Iraq’s citizens will have additional opportunities to decide their future and promote new leaders from the local to national level. Within six months of voting for provincial councils, Iraqis will return to the ballot box to vote for municipal and district councils. A national referendum on the security agreement with the United States is scheduled for July. The three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government — Irbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah — will hold provincial elections later this year. And finally, national parliamentary elections are scheduled for December.
While ballots are chosen over bullets and politics shift from sectarian divisions to real issues like jobs and the provision of essential services, the U.S. and international community should not take these developments for granted. Improvements in security remain fragile and reversible. Beyond elections, enormous challenges remain from resolving conflict in Kirkuk to increasing Iraqi government capacity for meetings the needs of the population. But with appropriate support — especially through the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and other civilian agencies — the Obama administration has an opportunity to help consolidate Iraq’s democracy and long-term stability.
As we informed you yesterday, the emergency spending bill is being debated on the floor of the house as this entry is being written. Many of you have already taken action and contacted their elected representatives urging them to support the bill. We want to express our gratitude to those peacebuilders whose support and dedication are significant parts of our efforts to help vulnerable Iraqi refugees.
In addition to the bill being debated right now, we also want to report that the deadline for the bill might extend until June 15 (Latest: Members of the House voted on the bill on Thursday, May 15). This development provides extra time to ensure that your voices as concerned constituents are loudly and clearly heard by members of the house.
We urgently need you to call your Representative RIGHT NOW via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Tell them:
Time is running out for many of Iraq’s most vulnerable civilians and refugees. Millions of Iraqis across the region are finding themselves in desperate need of basic humanitarian assistance, including food, health care and education.
One of the amendments to the emergency spending bill under consideration would provide an additional $1 billion in lifesaving humanitarian assistance for FY 2008 and FY 2009 to assist Iraqis and other victims of conflict ($675 million for refugees and $400 million for internally displaced persons and other vulnerable civilians). It would provide another $250 million in bilateral assistance to Jordan to help Iraqi refugees and alleviate the strain on national systems.
The emergency spending bill is the fastest and only available means to address unmet humanitarian needs in Iraq and the region for FY 2008.
The passage of the bill will demonstrate to the world that the U.S. is doing its part in helping the Iraqi refugees and as a result will improve the worldwide image of the United States.
We are very pleased with the responses we have received from you so if you have time, drop us a note about how it went or leave a comment on this blog.
Thank you for taking action on behalf of vulnerable Iraqis and their families.
Photo credit: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she thinks a compromise is likely. (Ken Cedeno – Bloomberg News)
To experts and historians, the Iraq Refugee Crisis is unprecedented. With well over 4 million Iraqis either internally displaced or forced to leave the country, the tales of horror and suffering are countless. As one Iraqi woman put it:
“If someone could describe what it is like to live in hell you would understand, than the world would understand what it is like to live in Baghdad. Every time somebody goes out you wonder if he or she will return. Every time a girl goes out you do not know if she will return or if she will be abducted, raped or murdered. It is like in hell.”
For Iraqis, living in hell does not end when some of them seek refugee in neighboring countries. Many of them live in harsh conditions and faced by lack of legal status, work permits, and international support, they are heavily dependent on their own savings for financial support. In order to change this reality, Iraqis seek to relocate to other countries where they could enjoy better lives. One of the most popular destinations is Sweden. Getting to Sweden is not easy and once an Iraqi decides to get out of hell, hell will become paradise. Sadly, it is a paradise for smugglers not the Iraqi refugees. It is a paradise because it is a $300 million dollars industry for the smugglers.
EPIC came across a report that details the difficult journey of vulnerable and desperate Iraqi refugees from Syria to Sweden. The report was produced by the Kaliber radio show, an investigative journalism program on Swedish Radio. According to the report, the cost of smuggling one person is around $12000-15000 and despite this large amount of money, the refugees go through life-threatening experiences to reach their dream destination. Looking back at his experience, one refugee said “If I knew that the way would be so difficult, I would never have had taken this way. I might as well have got killed home in Iraq.“
We find this report appalling and we invite you to join us in calling for increased support for the Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and inside Iraq as well. The need for supporting these refugees is fiercely urgent as discussed by prominent Iraq scholars and NGO representatives during the Iraq Action Days.
You could help end such horrible stories by calling your Congress members and urging them to provide more support for vulnerable Iraqis and by supporting EPIC’s work.
Together we can make the vulnerable be in paradise before they go through hell.
>Yesterday viet vet said… “Does anyone remember a place called Viet Nam?” While I have never been to a place called Vietnam, I feel close to it.
My dad served two tours in Vietnam (1967 and 1970). He retired a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps. Although my brothers and I continued the family tradition of military service, it was not until recently that my dad and I began sharing
A place called Vietnam was also a topic of conversation this morning on NPR. Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne interviewed Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) about his family’s military tradition and about serving, even in conflicts they don’t support. Webb, a Vietnam veteran, was elected last November as a leading critic of the U.S. war in Iraq. His son, Marine Lance Cpl. Jimmy Webb, just returned from a 9-month tour with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, in Anbar, Iraq. Here’s an excerpt:
Webb: …whatever the politics of a war are, for people who believe in their country, and who are willing to step forward and take those risks because they believe in their country. It sounds intellectually odd, but emotionally it’s correct.
Montagne: How do you reconcile that as a person in uniform and actually fighting?
Webb: You know, I got that same question from a young Marine a few years ago when I visited Quantico. His question to me was, “I don’t believe in this what we’re doing. I don’t think it’s the right way to go. What do I do when one of my Marines asks me that question?” And I said I’ll give you the same answer that I used to give myself during Vietnam. And that is that the war isn’t going to go away whether or not you or I like it — we’re talking as young second lieutenants, not as senators here — and, given that, my instincts, my responsibilities are to do the job and to get as many people back as I can. And that’s really the duty of a young military leader.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the Senator is proud of his son’s service and that of his son’s unit. “What they did has kind of become the hallmark for how to operate out of Anbar province,” said Webb.
I expect Senator Webb and his son will have a very interesting conversation over the weekend, and I anticipate they will both learn a lot from each other as my dad and I continue to learn from each other as we share what we know about America’s experience in Iraq and a place called Vietnam. Thanks viet vet for your national service and for lobbing a damn good question into the fray.
Yesterday was intense. I spent the day on Capitol Hill with longtime EPIC colleague Lisa Schirch and a delegation of peacebuilders from the region, who are implementing active peacebuilding programs inside Iraq. There’s a real hunger in Washington for genuine peacebuilding solutions, especially solutions that come from the ground. At the Capitol Hill briefing we helped organize, we had standing room only and had to turn dozens of people away. The audience was a good mix of congressional staffers, government agencies, NGOs and academics. Although the press was invited, none showed up.
As our regular blog readers and subscribers have noticed, we’ve been writing a lot about the absence of Iraq peacebuilders in the media and in Washington. There’s lots of talk about “military options” ranging from “the surge” to all-mighty withdrawal, but not a whole lot of talk about what’s needed as part of a comprehensive political, diplomatic and economic strategy for ending the war.
As much as the marketers at Boeing and Lockheed Martin may wish us to believe otherwise, peacebuilding does not land in helicopters or launch from battleships. Sure, there might be a role for the projection of military power under certain circumstances, but entrusting sustainable peacebuilding and development to a foreign occupying military and weapons systems makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.
The more the international community, U.S., and Iraqi government overlook peaceful agents of change, the more we will see men with guns step in to rule the day. It’s time for governments, regional agencies, and international organizations to start getting serious about directing resources to those in Iraq who are truly part of the solution: Iraq peacebuilders.
For those of you half-expecting me to invite everyone to hold hands for a round of Kumbaya, let me introduce you to a few folks who are the real deal.
Hero Anwar is the human resources and program monitoring & evaluation manager for REACH, an Iraqi nongovernmental organization established in 1995 to work in community development. A Kurdish Sunni Muslim, she has extensive experience working with Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) in villages and towns throughout Iraq. REACH is also involved in humanitarian relief, and promoting the abilities of vulnerable Iraqi groups to stand for a fair sustainable livelihood regardless of political, race, religious, or gender affiliations. All this with only a $1 million annual budget (including a microcredit program dispensing over $300,000 in $1,000 loans to Iraqis) and 45 staff members between four offices, one of which is in the troubled Diyala Province.
Samira Samarji (“Sister Helen”), was the director of St. Jackob Monastery in Baghdad from 2000-2006, before moving to Lebanon to work at the Patriarchal Institutions of the Syrian Orthodox Church. An Iraqi, she worked with Iraqi youth and knows well the humanitarian needs of people in Baghdad.
Samuel Rizk is the Executive Director of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD). FDCD works to empower marginalized, oppressed communities and address the challenges they face through a process of dialogue, inter-faith solidarity and cooperation among communities. FCDC also promotes sustainable development, justice and reconciliation, and strengthening the role of women and youth in inter-cultural dialogue. Here is FCDC’s latest newsletter on their work in Iraq (PDF) where they are supporting 15 Iraqi NGOs implementing projects in conflict resolution and peacebuilding in their local communities.
Following the Capitol Hill briefing, Lisa and I took the delegation to meet with Senate offices. The reception was very positive. The delegates shared detailed accounts of successful and ongoing projects that are building security from the ground up.
On very modest budgets, REACH and FCDC are implementing 100s of projects throughout Iraq. Both organizations rely on local involvement, protection and ownership. Their projects are helping to create jobs and restore public services. Furthermore, many of these projects are sources of genuine conflict prevention and resolution by engaging diverse communities in shared probelm-solving for the common good.
In other words, “peacebuilding through development” is not just a catchphrase for fuzzy thinkers. It works, and I was honored to spend the day with some of the men and women who are on the frontlines of those efforts.
>Two weeks ago, I wrote about Morton Kondracke’s disturbing Roll Call piece in which he calls for a U.S.-sponsored Shia elimination of Sunnis within Iraq. I argued that even aside from the fact that such action would be morally unpardonable, it isn’t necessary. The potential for peace in Iraq exists in the form of an internationally-mediated reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias, modeled upon the Dayton Accords which ended warfare in Bosnia.
An article in Sunday’s Washington Post entitled “Iraq’s Sadr Overhauls His Tactics,” by Sudarsan Raghavan, provides further evidence that such reconciliation is possible. Despite the deep trenches of their differences, peacebuilders on both sides are reaching out for dialogue and an end to violence in Iraq.
Moqtada al-Sadr is a prominent Shia cleric known for sewing dischord and encouraging violence towards Sunnis. His Mahdi Army – the second largest armed force in Iraq, after the U.S. military – has been blamed for horrific atrocities, including torturing and mutilating civilians. But recently, Sadr has begun purging his movement of violent radicals in favor of popular moderates, and recasting himself as a Nationalist in the middle of the Iraqi political spectrum. Although Shia-initiated aggression continues, “at least 600 fighters have been forced out of the militia over the past three months” for violent acts.
Can a leopard change its spots? Maybe not. But a good politician such as Sadr is more akin to a chameleon, savvy enough to adapt his colors to changes around him.
The changes are apparent. While many Iraqis accepted Shia-led violence after the bombing of Al-Askari Mosque in February 2006, the Raghavan article sites increasing popular frustration with violent insurgent tactics as part of the reason for Sadr’s change. The populist message carrying the most Lose Weight Exercise these days is summed up by Sadr’s moderate senior aide Salah al-Obaidi: “No, no, to sectarianism,” and indeed Sunnis and Shias are largely united against creating autonomous regions.
The sects remain divided on the U.S. timetable for troop withdrawal and other issues, and Sunnis remain understandably distrustful of Sadr’s peacebuilding efforts and inability to reign in violent splinter groups. But the prognosis for peace improves every time a Sunni or Shia puts down a weapon in favor of dialogue. Explains Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni legislator EPIC applauds for reaching across sectarian lines: “The Sadrists believe they have political problems, and they are trying new tactics to serve their own interests. But anyway, we welcome any political group who wants to talk instead of kill.”
The fact that leaders on both sides are making an effort to talk instead of kill is a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction.
A front page article in today’s Washington Post opens: “After an initially tepid reception from policymakers, the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group are getting a second look from the White House and Congress, as officials continue to scour for bipartisan solutions to salvage the American engagement in Iraq.”
Last December, EPIC championed the Iraq Study Group report as a bipartisan solution for responsibly moving forward on Iraq. Though the Group’s recommendations were initially tabled by the congressional leaders and the Bush administration, we are pleased to see that Washington is finally giving the report the attention and consideration it needs and deserves.
As negotiations on the FY2007 supplemental continue this week, the White House seems poised to accept a measure to impose political benchmarks on the Iraqi government and reduce U.S. assistance to Iraq if those benchmarks are not met. This was one of the key recommendations included in last December’s bipartisan report on Iraq, and now seems to be one of the most acceptable measures among both democratic and republican congressional offices.
Nearly all of the recommendations made by Iraq Study Group (ISG) are in accordance with the following goals that EPIC declared in 2003 as essential for peace in Iraq:
• Improve the protection of civilians and human rights • Promote political participation, inclusion and reconciliation • Grow Iraq’s institutional capacity for security and the rule of law • Improve government transparency and accountability • Support job creation and Iraqi-led development, especially at the local level • Increase international involvement and participation by civil society
However, while the report offers a solid top-down approach to achieving these goals, e.g. regional diplomacy, EPIC maintains that for this strategy to succeed the U.S. must simultaneously encourage development on the local level by increasing U.S. support for Iraqi non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and addressing the current jobs crisis. This bottom-up approach will strengthen the economy and secure the streets, which will in turn increase the likelihood for success of the ISG’s other recommendations.
The U.S., however, cannot be expected to bear the entire burden of these development projects. Through coordination with the International Compact for Iraq—the UN-sponsored framework for providing international assistance—governments, international organizations and NGOs around the world must aid Iraq’s recovery.
The Iraq Study Group has cleared the way for a more honest debate, and EPIC is pleased that the debate is finally getting underway. As the conversation develops, we hope that the President and Congress will soon realize the vital importance of community-based initiatives and economic revitalization to a comprehensive new approach to Iraq. Iraqi-driven peace and development must be the cornerstone of any new plan for the country.
>Last week, EPIC Director Erik Gustafson and I joined our NGO colleagues on Capitol Hill to meet with the staff of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The meeting was one of more than a dozen that our friends at NETWORK (a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby) scheduled with Congressional leaders as part of the Iraq Peace and Development Working Group (IPDWG).
IPDWG is a new effort to gain support in Washington for peacebuilding through emergency relief and development in Iraq. The NGOs first came together in an emergency meeting in early December to respond to the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis and (except possibly Darfur) deadliest conflict. By early February, the NGOs formed a working group and began meeting regularly to coordinate advocacy. With an emergency appropriations process for FY 2007 underway in Congress, and FY 2008 appropriations coming thereafter, the top priority was clear: reverse cuts in U.S. aid to Iraq.
By March, IPDWG had grown to more than 40 national organizations, and more join every month. EPIC co-chairs the working group with NETWORK. I was at the February meeting, and it is encouraging to be part of a community of NGOs sharing EPIC’s mission and supporting responsible and constructive U.S. action to help civilian Iraqis.
With so many different kinds of groups and mandates, IPDWG covers a lot of ground. There are groups working to: (1) help Iraq’s war refugees and internally displaced persons, especially those who are most vulnerable; (2) better protect Iraqi civilians and assist families harmed by U.S. military operations; (3) increase U.S. support for peacebuilding through development; and (4) promote responsible global engagement to end the Iraq crisis and prevent the conflict from escalating beyond Iraq’s borders into a full scale regional war. Since EPIC is one of the only Iraq-specific organizations in Washington, we’re finding ways to add value to the efforts of many of our fellow IPDWG members.
Our meeting with Speaker Pelosi’s office included (from left to right in the photo): EPIC Director Erik Gustafson, Raad Jarrar with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); Zahir JanMohamed and Sarnata Reynolds with Amnesty International USA; Sister Simone Campbell with NETWORK; and Jerrold Keilson with America’s Development Foundation (ADF). In the meeting, Jerrold explained how ADF, funded by USAID, is strengthening the role of Iraqi civil society in the country’s economic, political and social development, serving 1,900 Iraqi civil society organizations (CSOs). He made an appeal for U.S. funding so ADF can continue supporting programs vital to the international community’s mission in Iraq.
Erik, a Gulf War veteran, made it clear that Gen. Petreaus and the officers and enlisted soldiers and Marines with whom he corresponds all say the same thing: what the U.S. military can achieve in Iraq is limited. At best, they can buy time for an economic and political solution. He passed on EPIC’s Ground Truth Interviews with Professor Eric Davis, who advocates an economic plan for stabilizing Iraq; Professor Lisa Schirch, who champions a 3D (Development, Diplomacy, Defense) approach; and Khaldoon Ali, an Iraqi peacebuilder who directs a Baghdad-based humanitarian organization.
NETWORK Lobby’s Executive Director, Simone Campbell, brought to the forefront how important it is that Americans be seen as peacebuilders. She also appealed to Congress to restore full funding for successful relief and development programs reducing suffering and creating stability. Jerrold provided examples of successful projects operating throughout Iraq. Without continued funding, ADF’s civil society program will run out of funds in June.
Amnesty International’s Sarnata Reynolds and Zahir Janmohamed took a different approach in support of a surge in humanitarian, peacebuilding assistance. They talked about the people of Iraq and their displacement due to escalating violence. Sarnata discussed the desperate measures refugees must take to survive and avoid returning to Iraq, where they fear persecution and death. In some cases, women have even been forced into prostitution. These individuals are in desperate need of humanitarian relief which the Emergency Supplemental can provide.
The meetings on Capitol Hill continue in the coming weeks, as the peace and development NGO community fights for the funding that aid agencies — both government and non-government — need to help meet the humanitarian, development and protection needs of Iraq’s citizens and war refugees.
Where is the reconciliation benchmark? How long are the Iraqis going to wait before they get a strong reconciliation program going? It’s not like we don’t know how to do this. Great work in connecting divided people has already been done in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Rwanda. It’s time for the Iraqis to stand up to the forces that seek to divide.
Bruce is right. More ought to be done to promote conflict resolution, peacebuilding and national reconciliation in Iraq. I also share his view about the utility of increased pressure on Iraqi parliamentarians and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Maliki’s government to achieve political benchmarks. However, I disagree with the popular notion that deadlines will magically compel Iraqis to act. While deadlines might help, other factors, such as the small matter of Iraq’s civil war, present major stumbling blocks.
Thus, my answer to Bruce’s question “how long are Iraqis going to wait before they get a strong reconciliation program going?” is simple: they will wait until they feel secure enough to do so.
As long as Iraq’s civil war continues, national reconciliation will be difficult if not impossible. But Iraqi leaders (and the U.S.) have no option but to try, and plenty of Iraqis can’t be blamed for not trying. I think of an Iraqi colleague killed by an unknown gunmen last year. His crime? He was trying to advance peace and reconciliation between Sunni and Shia neighbors in the midst of rising sectarian violence.
Reconciliation is not something that ends wars, but rather helps societies heal after wars. South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process did not begin until after apartheid came to an end. Rwanda, on the other hand, is relatively stable, yet far from national reconciliation. The Tutsi-dominated government is still holding countless Rwandans in prison camps, including many denied due process. Rwandans expressing human rights concerns are often accused of “genocidal thinking.” Meanwhile, 10,000s of Rwandan refugees and remnants of the Interahamwe, informal Hutu-dominated militias that participated in the genocide, remain just across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To heal Rwanda’s divided society, a lot of reconciliation work remains.
So if national reconciliation doesn’t end civil wars, how do they really end? According to the literature, civil wars end when either one side wins outright or when combatants reach a stalemate, realizing no side is strong enough to prevail and hold onto power.
Returning to Bruce (aka PT Witte), his choice of countries — Rwanda, Northern Ireland and South Africa — offers an interesting range of case studies. In Rwanda, the civil war ended with one side (the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front) winning outright. Northern Ireland’s long civil war between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists ended in stalemate, making the 1998 Good Friday Agreement possible and leading to the formation of a power-sharing government. In the case of South Africa, decades of violent apartheid ended when the ruling National Party began negotiating itself out of power and the African National Congress (ANC) won the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994. When the ANC came to power, the government was not purged of civil servants from the previous regime (an example one would wish L. Paul Bremer and Iraqi expatriates had followed back in 2003).
Unfortunately, the combatants of Iraq’s civil war appear to be far from both stalemate and a decisive victory by any one side. Based on their rhetoric, factions among the various insurgent groups and militias clearly believe they can seize power through force of arms –- at least, once the Americans are out of the way.
Even if an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops reduces violence in Baghdad and so buys time for negotiations on power sharing in the current Iraqi government, there is no good reason to expect that subsequent reductions would not revive the violent power struggle. Civil wars are rarely ended by stable power-sharing agreements. When they are, it typically takes combatants who are not highly factionalized and years of fighting to clarify the balance of power. Neither condition is satisfied by Iraq at present.
In other words, barring a massive outside intervention that only Sen. McCain seems to support, it’s far more likely that Iraq’s civil war will get much worse before it can get better. Pro-withdrawal Democrats like Rep. Murtha seem to recognize this. Rather than pull U.S. forces from the Middle East, he advocates “strategic redeployment” to “contain” Iraq’s civil war. Likewise, less talk in recent months has centered on “ending the war.” Instead, Congressional leaders talk about “ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq’s civil war.”
In their January report When Things Fall Apart, Kenneth Pollack and Daniel Byman of Brookings put it this way:
President George W. Bush has staked everything on one last-chance effort to quell the fighting and jumpstart a process of political reconciliation and economic reconstruction. Should this last effort fail, the United States is likely to very quickly have to determine how best to handle an Iraq that will be erupting into Bosnia- or Lebanon-style all-out civil war. The history of such wars is that they are disastrous for all parties, but the United States will have little choice but to try to stave off disaster as best it can.
Until a lasting peace can be negotiated between Iraq’s warring factions, we have an obligation to do what we can to protect innocent civilians, assist war victims, and help refugees and internally displaced persons, especially those who are most vulnerable. We also have a responsibility to work with our Iraqi and international partners to prevent the conflict from escalating beyond Iraq’s borders into a full scale regional war. That ought to be something the Bush administration and both parties in Congress can agree on –- regardless of differences over military surges and troop withdrawals.
This is definitely a case where “united we stand, divided we fall.” While it has become fashionable and in some cases accurate to blame the Iraqis for zero-sum politics and not moving quickly enough, there is plenty of room for improvement on those accounts here in Washington as well.
Meanwhile in the field throughout Iraq, Americans and Iraqis — civilian and military — are risking their lives to do what they can with what they have. Many have little choice in the matter. If efforts at the national level with Prime Minister Maliki’s government stall, much can still be done at the local level. For readers interested in local conflict prevention and peacebuilding strategies for Iraq, I recommend this resource (PDF) from our friends at the 3D Security Initiative.
Thanks for the great questions Bruce, and for giving EPIC a Second Life among PT Witte and friends.