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(Washington, Oct 19) – At the conclusion of a reconciliation conference in Baghdad, 31 tribal sheikhs from Mahmoudiya, a district of approximately 500,000 people just south of Baghdad, signed a path-breaking statement that puts forth 37 goals to improve security and quality of life in a region a that has experienced such horrific violence it has commonly been referred to as the "Triangle of Death."

The tribal sheikhs (two thirds Sunni and one third Shia), in three days of discussion, focused on security, rule of law, governance, the economy and social well-being. Their signed statement (PDF - 30KB) outlines the current situation in Mahmoudiya district, objectives to be achieved over the next three years and courses of action to achieve them. Highlights include commitments to help ensure that the Iraqi police and army have sole responsibility for security in Mahmoudiya, that tribal members provide information on terrorist and criminal activity and that the community takes responsibility for the large number of citizens who have been displaced by the violence.

USIP's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Trish Thomson said, "This is a great example of how USIP quietly and effectively helps Iraqis build peace—neighborhood-by-neighborhood and community-by-community. It's also a great example of a successful partnership between USIP, the military, USAID, and the State Department."

Rusty Barber, the United States Institute of Peace’s (USIP) chief of party in Iraq whose office organized the conference at the request of local tribal, government and civil society leaders, said, "This conference was a significant first step in rehabilitating a society that, for the past three years, has witnessed massive destruction of its infrastructure and social fabric. It’s also important to note that the initiative for this reconciliation process came from local citizens who reached out for help through U.S. forces based in their region."

The conference was groundbreaking in many ways, most notably in that USIP-trained Iraqi facilitators conducted the event, instructing participants in mediation and negotiation principles as they helped them define common goals and courses of action to achieve them. "We hope to use this unique format as a model for use in other zones of conflict around Iraq," said Barber.

A mixed Sunni and Shia district, Mahmoudiya in the past was an important center of agriculture and wholesale produce markets. Following the U.S. led invasion in 2003, however, the region descended into chaos. As the introduction to the signed statement notes, "Its people are frightened, its infrastructure is destroyed and its economy is blocked. Terrorism, criminal gangs and sectarian violence have forced people from their homes, damaged the social fabric and weakened the tribes, which traditionally have played an important role among Mahmoudiya’s people."

Recent progress by U.S.* and Iraqi forces to stabilize the region has, however, opened a window of opportunity for Mahmoudiya's tribes to help put the district on a more secure and prosperous path. This meeting is the first in Iraq to outline a comprehensive plan of recovery based on the ideas of Iraqi tribal sheikhs, who in recent months have been playing an increasingly important role in tamping down violence.

USIP has been working with Iraqis since early 2004 to promote political reconciliation, strengthen government institutions, and facilitate positive international engagement. More information about USIP's projects in Iraq is available online.

* 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division

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