Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Talk Instead of Kill: Shia and Sunni Peacebuilders Reach Out

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 weight 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.

12 comments:

Ware from Ohio said...

VERY well written. This posting offers more optimism on Iraq than I think I have ever seen. This posting flows very well and was enjoyable reading.

jt said...

It's about time we started to see the Iraqi's themselves try to end some of the violence. Thanks for something positive. We could use more hope.

Anonymous said...

I only wish peace in Iraq would be so easy. Last night I dreamt of peace and our troops coming home.

concerned mom said...

I would love to see the troops come home, especially after listening to the father of one of the three missing troops speak of his son this morning. Knowing that two "may be alive" but not knowing if his son is one of them.

Yet, what will happen when we leave? I can't begin to imagine unless this is well thought out and planned. We need all the best minds we can muster to figure this out. Here and in Iraq! You all have my blessings!

Emily Stivers said...

The Sunnis are justifiably concerned that a premature U.S. withdrawal would result in more Shia-on-Sunni violence, since Shias are in a large majority. According to the Washington Post article I've sited in this blog, the Shias are so eager to send the troops home that they are trying to uproot Al Qaeda from Iraq and have expressed willingness to meet with Members of Congress calling for troop withdrawal.

But regardless of when our troops come home, the important thing is that we're laying the foundations now for a sustainable peace absent U.S. involvement. That means fostering dialogue between the religious sects and working with Iraqis to build infrastructure from the ground up. As sad as the troop problems are, that needs to be our focus right now.

Anonymous said...

When the "cause" doesn't seem so hopeless, it inspires one to think of more ways to help. Honestly, we need headlines that echo "Talk instead of Kill".

And yet, let's hope that the leaders in Iraq that maybe turning to less violence don't end up victims as happens so often. It's almost wrong to point them out since that seems to make them targets. Let's hope and work for the best.

Anonymous said...

Now that Sarkozy has won the election, we may even be able to get the troublesome French on board in a coalition that could guide Iraq with a heavy hand.

Aged Hippie said...

I really fear what is happening in Lebanon may 'spillover' in some disastrous way in Iraq! Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Short, well thought ou and to the point. We that read blogs don't have very long attention spans!

Emily Stivers said...

Anonymous - we do have to be careful not to paint too rosy a picture. You're right that often peacebuilders are the primary targets of violence in Iraq. But their long-term safety can only be insured through more open dialogue and sustainable development.

Anonymous - I'm not sure how effective a "heavy hand" approach would be, either from the French or the international community in general. Do check out my entry on how the U.S. and others can help facilitate dialogue: http://thegroundtruth.blogspot.com/2007/05/reconcilliation-is-possible.html

Emily Stivers said...

Aged hippie - fortunately, I don't think the connection is strong enough between the conflict in Lebanon and what's going on in Iraq for any spillover to be noticeable or traceable. But I'll look into it further and blog about it if I find anything to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

Oh great, what's happening in Lebanon now?

 
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