Friday, May 11, 2007

Reconciliation IS Possible - A Political Solution for Iraq

I read a disturbing article in last Thursday's Roll Call (a DC publication read mostly by Hill staffers; sorry, you have to sign up to read it online) arguing the Iraqi civil war can only end by Shias brutally suppressing Sunnis, and the U.S. has no choice but to back the Shias and hope the genocide isn't too bad. The author, Morton Kondracke, believes that otherwise the violence will be worse and might result in a regime unfriendly to U.S. interests. At least if we support the Shias now, he argues, we can take some credit when they inevitably win, and continue playing a role in the country.

Setting aside the obvious fact that supporting genocide or brutal repression on ANY scale is morally unpardonable, I still think Kondracke is wrong. First, his solution would only further antagonize and radicalize Sunni Jihadis, resulting in more violence against the U.S. and its allies. Second, there is an alternative. Reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias IS possible, and it's up to the international community to facilitate it.

I pointed out in my entry Radicalization Spillover last week that Sunnis and Shias do live in peace in some countries, and the Michigan example - however far removed from the realities of the Middle East - at least sets a precedent for a formal peace agreement between the sects in the wake of violence. But commenters questioned just how realistic such a solution was, and who could possibly implement it.

To answer those questions, I highly recommend an article in last Thursday's Washington Post called "A Dayton Process for Iraq," by EPIC friend and peacebuilder Rend Al-Rahim. We haven't always seen eye-to-eye with Rend on every issue, but on this one, we feel she got it spot on. Rend's extensive knowledge of her native country as the founding director of the Iraq Foundation and Iraq's representative to the U.S. from 2003 to 2004 should not be taken lightly. This woman knows what she's talking about.
Rend proposes a peace process modeled upon the Dayton Accords, which effectively ended major violence in Bosnia even after a brutal ethnic war leaving hundreds of thousands dead. Although important differences exist in the two cases, Rend argues they should not deter us from using this model, which - if properly implemented - could result in an Iraqi reconciliation.

Rend's solution includes seven elements:
  1. A strong and credible driving force behind the process. The U.S. is in the best position to play this role, but need not do so alone.
  2. A credible sponsor. The United Nations or another organization with high-profile, skilled facilitators must be involved.
  3. The single objective of producing a Sunni-Shiite agreement. No questions of international troops, oil, regional conflicts or other concerns should be involved.
  4. Representation of Iraqi groups at the highest level of decision-making. Nobody can make peace for Iraq. We can help, but if the Iraqis don't see it as their own, it will be doomed from the start.
  5. Sustained discussions until compromise is reached. There need not be a time-table; if the final solution is to be truly final, it must be thorough and agreed upon by all.
  6. Implementation mechanisms and a timetable. While we can't put a timer on the process, we can upon its implementation. The how and when of enforcement must be spelled out.
  7. Ratification by concerned countries, including Iraq's neighbors. The final agreement will only be credible if it is linked to other agreements and accords, and agreed upon and respected by all with concerns in the nation.
"The attention the United States pays to legal aspects of national reconciliation puts the cart before the horse: Laws and constitutional revision must be outcomes of a national agreement, not conditions for one," Rend states. This ties in well to Erik's argument that "reconciliation is not something that ends wars, but rather helps societies heal after wars."

Although we have a moral obligation to help the vulnerable Iraqi people in the meantime and do what we can to build economic and political infrastructure, an agreement must be forged between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias before we can hope for real, sustainable peace.

With Rend's plan, we have that hope.


Midwesterner Republican said...

Very well written. I have been around a long time and this leads me to be very dubious about peace accords. With you, I wish it could happen but the hate in Iraq may be too great. I have no answer.

Anonymous said...

The United Nations is a corrupt bureaucracy that is totally ineffectual at everything it tries. It would be a grave mistake involving them in any peace process.

City Clerk said...

If we used the Dayton Peace Accord as a model, would that mean dividing Iraq into Kurd, Shia, and Sunni countries?

Erik K. Gustafson said...

Anonymous: With the exception of the Kurdish north, I don't think a peace accord will involve partition. The vast majority of Iraqis don't want that (in fact talk of such a move is viewed as "colonial thinking"). It would also likely accelerate ethnic and sectarian killing, not ease it, because many of Iraq's most populace areas like Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Baqubah are mixed. Furthermore, one must ask when the fragmentation ends. Given intra-party fighting between SCIRI and the Sadrists, the power struggles and fragmentation are not likely to stop at ethnic & sectarian boundaries. Even in Kurdistan, the two major Kurdish parties fought their own civil war for years in the 1990s, and battles continue particularly with newly emerging parties of Islamist Kurds and others who feel disenfranchised by the two major parties. Partition misdiagnoses the problem in Iraq, which is the absence of a binding power-sharing agreement among Iraq’s major communities (which remain insufficiently represented by Iraq’s current political parties), the weakness of political and governing institutions to mediate conflict, and a resulting government that lacks the legitimacy and credibility to govern.

rich said...

This strategy seems simply reasonable but rather complicated and challenging to implement. While I have many questions, I was wondering who within the U.S. government can facilitate the reconciliation in the manner that Rand Al-Rahim advocates for, especially when the Bush Administration appears to have a different mentality/plan with regards to Iraq and the Middle East.

t said...

All good ideas. I'm curious. Is EPIC capable of creating influence that leads towards acting on these good ideas?

Emily Stivers said...

Midwesterner - we all share your concern about the albeit dubious prospects for peace between the rival religious sects in Iraq. However, violent hatreds as great have been at least politically overcome in many other instances, notably our own Civil War. Never lose hope for peace.

Anonymous - the UN has its problems as most international and even domestic institutions do. But to say it is totally ineffectual is a gross exaggeration. For a credible documentation of UN successes, please check out (You may have to copy that link into your browser.)

Also, keep in mind we're not talking about UN peacekeeping here; just UN facilitation and support for a summit. Having the UN involved would increase the credibility of the event amongst UN members.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if EPIC is capable of creating enough influence but we have to start somewhere. Most of the general public has no clue what's really going on in Iraq. No clue what's going on and no idea how to get this mess settled and get us out of there.

We need organizations pulling in some greater minds to come up with workable solutions. If that means more concentration on the people of Iraq then let's do it and let's support organizations like EPIC. We need all the help we can get.

Emily Stivers said...

Rich - thanks for the comment. It is true that the credibility of the U.S. has suffered internationally in recent years, and this may present an additional stumbling block to peace negotiations between Sunni and Shia factions. Some might even walk away from the event as a result of U.S. involvement.

However, demonstrating that we are truly interested in peace through supporting an Accord without trying to advance our own broader interests might be one step towards regaining a piece of our lost credibility, and someone needs to be a strong driving force behind the event. Involving other countries and not going it alone might also help insure success.

T - EPIC's mission is to identify what works and does not work, and advocate for what works in regard to peacebuilding in Iraq. As one of a small number of solely-Iraq-focused organizations, our influence and credibility are growing every day.

To further enhance our influence, we have co-founded the Iraq Policy and Development Working Group (IPDWG), which teams over 40 organizations to advocate our mutual goals. We recently met with the staff of Speaker Pelosi (see blog entry, Friday) and have scheduled meetings with several Senators.

Does EPIC capable of influencing change? Athough a small organization with funding constraints, we are doing our very best.

Emily Stivers said...

Thanks for the words of support, anonymous. A big part of our mission is educating the public and legislators of the realities on the ground in Iraq. Having reliable information is certainly the first step.

t said...

Ok, so what does meeting with politicians do to help your influence? It seems like politicians are rarely "on the fence" with issues as heated as Iraq. Are you there to convince them of something they don't already agree with? Or you there to bring them information they don't already know? Forgive me, I know nothing about how Washington officials can be influenced by organizations such as yours.

Emily Stivers said...

T - remember we're not concerned with the "big" issue re: Iraq, which is troop withdrawal. On that count, you're right, nobody seems to be on the fence. But the fact is, many legislators and indeed people in general seem ignorant of the realities on the ground in Iraq. We're called the EDUCATION for Peace in Iraq Center because part of our job is to educate legislators and the public so they can make informed decisions.

Additionally, we have met with success on several ventures. We got most of the development aid we wanted in the previously-passed supplemental aid bill, and it all followed through into the new one (after Bush rejected the first due to the timetable question). The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act for which we advocate is gaining new cosponsors and momentum every week.

Of course there are limits to what one small organization, or indeed even a working group full of them, can accomplish. But I believe we are successfully disseminating important information to Americans through this blog and our other resources, enabling everyone to make better decisions.

Anonymous said...

I found a link to the Kondracke piece on Lexis-Nexis but linked through Google, so it might work.

I don't know if it's worth reading though. It reads like some aged cynical steelworker spouting opinions gleaned from daily doses of Limbaugh and the 700 Club. It's not the sort of thing that plays beyond

I only wish he had the guts to call his plan what it is: "Kondracke's Final Solution."

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