Friday, June 08, 2007

Iraq Peacebuilders Storm Capitol Hill

From right to left: Iraqi peacebuilders Samuel Rizk, Sister Helen, EPIC's Erik Gustafson, Hero Anwar, Lynn Kunkle and Lisa Schirch, outside the Hart Senate Office Building. (photo by Geoff Schaefer)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.


Roscoe said...

Very sad that no press showed up. This upsets me quite a bit.
The purpose of the military is very simple: to blow things up and to kill people. For our national defense we have to have them at the ready to fulfill their purpose. They do a very poor job of 'nation building' etc. That is why we should get them out and get the peacemakers in. I am beginning to feel that Iraq is a failed nation.

Anonymous said...

"Not a lot of talk about peacebuilders in Iraq"? How about NONE!

Ahmed said...

For a moment I thought EPIC endorsed Ocean's 13 when I saw the photo of "Peacebuilders Storm the Hill". Nice shot.

Erik K. Gustafson said...

Ahmed - Thanks brother Ahmed. Hope all is well with you.

Anonymous - If you are an EPIC subscriber, you will be receiving a report on the briefing in coming weeks. We are also releasing a report on our "Overlooked Successes" by NGOs implimenting projects with Iraqi partners. Watch for future blogs on both soon.

Roscoe - indeed we have our work cut out for us! Thanks for all the great comments to our posts. For more about the successes and failures of U.S. nationbuilding in Iraq, be sure to check out our new Ground Truth interview with former U.S.AID officer Kirk Johnson.

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