Can a divided Iraq be reconciled?

A political battle is raging over what a post-ISIL Iraq could look like.

Campaign to regain Mosul Shia militia PMU
Reconciliation efforts took a hit last month when the Iraqi parliament approved a law legalising the Popular Mobilisation Forces, a group of powerful Shia militias [EPA]

Iraqi Sunni and Shia political leaders are in the midst of negotiations in an attempt to reach common ground for a post-ISIL reconciliation plan.

Representatives from the biggest Sunni bloc in Iraq’s parliament, the National Forces Alliance, recently met Amar al-Hakim, who heads the ruling Iraqi National Alliance, an umbrella group of Shia parties. The meeting came after the National Forces Alliance rejected a reconciliation plan prepared by Hakim and instead proposed its own vision for governing a post-ISIL Iraq, aiming to remedy the chronic political and sectarian fighting that has plagued the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Details of the competing plans were still being worked out, and have not been made public. As the battle for Mosul drags on, Sunni and Shia leaders have not ironed out a timeframe for reaching an agreement.

According to Mohammed al-Karbouli, a member of the National Forces Alliance who has been involved in the discussions, his bloc had agreed to “write and propose a paper with a vision on how to govern the Iraqi state, especially in crucial areas such as the de-Baathification law [which bans members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party from serving in government], the amnesty law and the federal regions”. Karbouli was referring to a long-standing Sunni demand for the release of Sunnis held under the country’s notorious “anti-terrorism” law, which they believe targets them unfairly, and for an equitable power-sharing agreement. 

READ MORE: Battle for Mosul – ‘I miss everything there’

“We will hand the paper to the representative of the UN envoy to Iraq in the first or second week of the new year,” Karbouli told Al Jazeera. “There were many initiatives in the past. The important thing is the implementation. I think I would rely on [a reconciliation plan succeeding] by 25 to 30 percent. It all depends on the concessions made by the ruling [Iraqi] National Alliance to accept others.”

Reconciliation efforts took a hit last month when the Iraqi parliament approved a law legalising the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a group of powerful Shia militias. Sunni Iraqi politicians were outraged at the move, accusing the militias of committing sectarian attacks against Sunnis during their campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

Hakim remained adamant that the new law would not hinder reconciliation efforts. “The PMF act has a humanitarian aspect to ensure the rights of the martyrs,” Hakim told a gathering of Iraqi youth and activists earlier this month, referring to the compensation owed to families of fighters who have died.

“The National Settlement [reconciliation plan] is a strategic necessity to maintain the unity of Iraq, and it is a reassuring comprehensive project for all Iraqis … It is backed by the United Nations, which will promote the project inside and outside Iraq,” he added.

Although details of the Shia proposal have not been officially announced, leaks widely circulated in the Iraqi media suggest that it includes a call for armed groups to take part in negotiations, provided that they formally recognise the political process and the Iraqi constitution. Both ISIL and the Baath Party, which ruled Iraq during Saddam’s era, would be excluded from the process.


The initiative is said to include clauses to end Iraq’s sectarian quota system, adopt political power-sharing reforms, denounce all forms of violence and “terrorism”, rebuild the state’s institutions and rid them of corruption, ensure a fair distribution of wealth and bring weapons under the government’s control.

But some analysts say the proposal is not feasible and would face many challenges.

“There are too many ‘noes’ in this initiative. Those who wrote it have the mentality of someone who is the victor and controls the reins of power, without regard for the others,” said Mouayad al-Windawi, an analyst at the Amman-based Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies.

“The National Alliance wants the weakest Sunni groups to sit and talk, while it excludes the others. Where are the forces who are opposed to the political process, or the armed groups, or the liberals or the Baathists?” he asked. “The political process needs to be reconsidered. There have to be concessions made by the relevant parties to build a state and unite the society. But such men do not exist in Iraq.”

READ MORE: Battle for Mosul – ISIL’s innocent victims

Leaked excerpts from the draft proposal state that once all parties agree on the initiative, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) would work to deliver a final draft for the national settlement. This would require the blessing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shia religious authority in Iraq, as well as the approval of the Iraqi parliament and government.

“At this point, there is no UN draft or UN initiative. It is still an Iraqi national initiative,” UNAMI spokesman Samir Ghattas told Al Jazeera. “The UN role is that of a facilitator in line with UNAMI’s mandate to advise and assist the government … on a number of issues, including advancing inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation.”

Although ISIL has lost large swaths of territory in Iraq, the group has not been wiped out and could remain lethal even if it is forced out of its Mosul stronghold. The government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the ruling Shia alliance have cited a need to build on recent military victories against ISIL across the country.

“Iraq became a project of killing of all Iraqis, and after declaring victory, we have to have a new road map that’s different from the past,” said Habib al-Tarfi, a member of the Iraqi National Alliance. “We want a settlement with nationalist Iraqis, not those who are nationalist in the morning and turn terrorists at night. This settlement is our saviour … we have no option but to reconcile. Is the Iraqi blood that cheap?”

Source: Al Jazeera