Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
I spoke in one of my public presentation about three R’s of the post ISIS era in Iraq: Reclaiming the lost territories from ISIS, Reconstruction of the Iraqi State, and Reconciliation among Iraqis. This article is based on that presentation, with some reflections on the events that took place in recent months. Let me define each concept, while presenting my arguments concerning the Iraqi case.
By “reclaiming” lost territories, I do not only mean pushing ISIS out of the towns and villages it occupied in 2014. Other measures are necessary to make this “reclaiming” a worthy accomplishment. These measures must prevent the fall of these territories in the hands of the same terrorist group, or its future successors. The Iraqi state needs to reclaim the land and the people. It is also important to ensure that the administrative status of the reclaimed territories is finalized. The ongoing procrastination on the status of disputed regions throughout Iraq has caused confusion among the population and gave incentive to the disputants to welcome crises that might further their narrow interests – like the initial “excitement” in Kurdistan when ISIS took Mosul and allowed the de facto annexation of disputed territories under the cover of the chaos, creating an inevitable future battle to be fought between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Reclaiming the lost territories also needs to include a good measure of winning the population by good governance and a well-defined arrangement of power-sharing according to a faithful implementation of the Iraqi Constitution on matters related to federalism. Continued arbitrary application of the constitution by the Federal Government has enabled subversive regional leaders to exploit local disenchantment and often frame it in a manner that facilitates seditious actions and causes civil unrest, leaving the government no recourse other than the heavy-handed use of force.
Reconstruction is another concept that needs to be fully explained. I am not referring here to the rebuilding of houses, roads, and public facilities, which have been destroyed by the fighting and bombardment. This will be the easier part. The real challenge is the full reconstruction of the nation, and particularly the parts that have been affected by terrorism. I am making a reference here to the era of Reconstruction in the American South after the Civil War (1861-1865). I encourage all Iraqi leaders to learn the lessons of that painful experience to succeed in the project of reconstructing the Iraqi nation politically, socially, and economically. There needs to be a full departure from all past mutual grievances, conditioned on a new contract. Those who want to be part of the new contract must pledge to move forward in full faith and demonstrate their full commitment, and the ones who revert to the old subversive schemes will have no place at the table. The Iraqi Constitution need to be amended to ensure social and political justice and the rule of law has to be paramount. Iraq reconstruction must ensure the transition from the current arbitrary rule of corrupt men and parties to the organized rule of effective institutions and laws.
Finally, Reconciliation is another over-used in the discourse about Iraq, but often with the wrong ideas. If we speak to the assortment of Iraqi politicians, they will tell us that all they do every day is reconciliation. And this is true. They even established a ministry for reconciliation. But is it the reconciliation that Iraq desperately needs? Of course not! All reconciliation efforts begin and end with politicians and their political parties, while their constituents are left out of the equation. To believe that granting an extra ministry position or two to a political bloc will satisfy their grossly deprived constituents is to completely miss the true meaning of national reconciliation. As long as there is a divided and disenfranchised population, there is always room for someone to exploit this division and undermine national unity. What Iraqi politicians have not done, nor took interest in, until now was social reconciliation. Case in point: when the public intellectuals of Najaf and Anbar took the initiative to start social reconciliation between their provinces, the Iraqi officials in charge of reconciliation refused to participate in the effort or lend it any support. The reason is simple: the only capital at stake in such reconciliation is social good will, but the margin of political, administrative and financial corruption is nil.
Reconciliation in Iraq needs to benefit from international experience in countries that suffered from civil unrest and managed to move forward, such as South Africa, and it needs to be implemented by professionals rather than petty politicians: the project in Iraq is currently assigned to fourth-rate politicians who are not regarded as important enough for prominent positions. They lack authority, creativity, and general experience.
Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim