It is one thing to read an interview, but quite another to actually meet the peacebuilders working for change in Iraq -- to see the way their eyes light up when they talk about the successes they've had, and how committed and passionate they are about their work. And in interview after interview, conversation after conversation, what gets me most is that they all say the same thing: peace is possible. Reconciliation between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds is possible. They've seen it, they've been a part of it. They know.
Last night, I was privileged to be invited to a dinner attended by the Iraq peacebuilders featured earlier at the Capitol Hill briefing, "Peacebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan: Building Security from the Ground Up" (look for more info on that event here soon). Amongst these brave Iraqis was Hero Anwar, Program Manager of REACH, an Iraqi community development organization. I spent most of the evening hearing, and being moved by, her stories.
Hopefully we'll be doing a Ground Truth interview with Hero soon. But in the meantime, I just want to convey how incredibly hopeful she was about the prospects for peace and an end to civil war in Iraq. Hero talked about an area outside of Mosul, where Kurdish and Arab villages initially refused to work together on a water distribution program, each village administration wanting to negotiate separately with REACH. But eventually, they came to understand the necessity of collaboration, and managed to form a single team, work with REACH, fix the problem and resolve their conflict.
As Hero explained, sectarian rifts seem a lot deeper and more important when one is unemployed, lacks access to electricity and clean water, and is wondering where the family's next meal is coming from. But give people ownership and responsibility of a project to improve their situation, listen to, value and incorporate their input, and it is amazing how unimportant those rifts suddenly become.
We've heard the same things from other peacebuilders, such as Bruce Parmelee of CHF International, Daniel Rothenberg of IHRLI, and Michael Miller of ADF. Work with the people on small, inclusive projects, and the progress may seem incremental and localized, but overtime it can have a cumulative impact.
I told you a couple weeks ago how Sunni and Shiite leaders have been reaching out to end violence and negotiate differences. And everything I said then has been validated by Hero Anwar and the other Iraqi peacebuilders I met last night.
Make no mistake -- clearly there is still a lot of work to be done. The media may be painting an unnecessarily bleak picture of Iraq by not telling you stories of successful peacebuilding, but they're not lying. And Hero never for a moment implied that her work in uniting Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites in small communities was easy. But the point is, everybody who really knows what's going on in Iraq is saying the same thing: it can be done.
I, for one, have never felt so hopeful and excited about the work we're doing at EPIC, and the long term prospects for a peaceful Iraq.