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.
In his recent Foreign Affairs essay, James Fearon writes:
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.