April 21, 2016
Left to right: USIP's Elie Abouaoun and a Representative from Iraq’s National Reconciliation Committee.
Washington, D.C. – Amid the unrelenting pressures of war, the Government of Iraq this week formalized its work with the U.S. Institute of Peace to advance reconciliation at all levels, a key element of the country’s post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. The agreement between USIP and Iraq’s National Reconciliation Committee further strengthens a partnership that has yielded results such as the return of thousands of people to the northern city of Tikrit after it was recaptured from the ISIS extremist group.
Mohammad Salman al-Saadi, the advisor to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for national reconciliation, signed a memorandum of understanding with Elie Abouaoun, USIP’s director of Middle East programs, during an April 19 ceremony in Baghdad. During a 2015 visit to Washington that included a meeting with policymakers and analysts hosted by USIP, al-Abadi appealed for support in unifying Iraqis in the aftermath of the ISIS onslaught. Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily helped shepherd the agreement as it developed. The signing also was attended by Aqeel Salman, who leads the committee’s relations with international organizations; USIP Program Officer Osama Gharizi; and Haider al-Ibrahimi, the executive director of SANAD for Peacebuilding, a civil society organization that has been a pivotal partner for USIP on the ground.
The MOU reflects joint projects that USIP has undertaken and will continue to pursue with Iraqi civil society leaders and government institutions to reconcile adversaries in some of Iraq’s hottest conflict zones. For example, after Iraqi government troops and Shia militias drove ISIS out of Tikrit in early 2015, USIP supported SANAD and the Network of Iraqi Facilitators in conducting a series of dialogues involving Sunni and Shia tribes to forestall a cycle of revenge violence over the 2014 ISIS massacre of as many as 1,700 Iraqi cadets at a nearby military base known as Camp Speicher. The negotiations, which included the National Reconciliation Committee as well as the office of Iraq’s National Security Advisor, established terms such as a mechanism for vetting residents wishing to return to their homes in Tikrit to ensure those implicated in the massacre were excluded. After the agreement, about 400 families returned to Tikrit initially, and thousands more followed under the same mechanism. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that almost all residents now have come back. The project, like a dialogue that USIP helped lead in Mahmoudiyah in 2007 on different issues, illustrates that reconciliation in Iraq, especially in areas recaptured from the grip of ISIS, is not only essential but also realistic.
This week’s MOU with Iraq “opens the door for more collaboration on reconciliation as a key element of stabilization in liberated areas,” said Sarhang Hamasaeed, a USIP senior program officer. “USIP is working with a wide array of government and civil society actors on reconciliation and peacebuilding in Iraq.”
The MOU calls for the reconciliation committee to work on mutually agreed joint projects with USIP, establish a coordinator to liaise on these activities and help mobilize other government institutions as needed to support these efforts. USIP, in turn, will draw on local and international expertise to provide training and other technical support to the committee on issues including national reconciliation, conflict analysis and conflict management.
USIP has had a presence in Iraq since 2003, promoting peaceful governance through collaborative civic engagement to strengthen local capacities to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts peacefully. The institute works across community, provincial and national levels with training, guidance and other support to provide Iraqis with the tools they need to take peaceful, constructive action.
In addition to the National Reconciliation Committee, SANAD and the Network of Iraqi Facilitators, USIP also works with and/or supports the Alliance of Iraqi Minorities and a range of other Iraqi organizations and individuals to address the roots of violent conflict and propose concrete solutions.