The USIP Baghdad Office (BDO) earlier this month hosted a meeting between USIP President- select Jim Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Center for Conflict Management Abiodun Williams, and members from the Network of Iraqi Facilitators (NIF) and Alliance of Iraqi Minorities (AIM). USIP is supporting efforts by NIF and AIM members to defuse escalating conflicts between minority groups residing within the disputed internal boundaries of the Ninawa governorate in northern Iraq.
Continuing conflicts between Shabak Muslims and Christians can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as job opportunities and public services, which spurred some Shabaks to migrate into the historically Christian enclave of Bartella. As more and more Shebaks migrated from the countryside into the urbanized Bartella, Christians feared a demographic shift that could threaten their way of life, especially their religious rituals and traditions.
As the Shebak population within Bartella rose, so did tensions between the two groups. Harassment at the Bartella checkpoints flared, violent assaults by each group increased, churches and mosques were defaced by provative graffiti, and inflammatory speech in the media by leaders on both sides’ fueled tensions.
USIP supported members of NIF, AIM, and the Interfaith Dialogue (IFD) program as they developed a strategic plan to ease tensions through facilitated dialogue between leaders of both communities. Building on the members’ strong relationships with leaders in the area and skills introduced by USIP’s facilitation and mediation applied trainings; the facilitators were able to help convene a representative group of Shebaks and Christians: the Bartella Communications Committee.
At its first joint-meeting held August 28, 2012, the committee developed a set of recommendations and a letter of commitment, essentially a code of ethics under which its future meetings would be governed. The committee has pledged to keep all open channels of communication between the two groups and to concentrate on finding sustainable solutions to the problems that have given rise to tensions between the groups. The committee identified four primary areas of concern: including security, religious ceremonies, public services and property agreement.
While NIF, AIM and IFD facilitators will work with both groups to monitor progress and facilitate future committee meetings, USIP recognizes the organic process from which this intervention unfolded.
Manal Omar, director for Iraq, Iran and North Africa Programs, stated, “ The synergies between USIP programs and the demand-driven technical needs arising from Ninawa governorate demonstrate USIP’s agility to respond to emerging conflict, which is a tremendous shift in Iraq’s recent history from conflict stability operations to that of a mission of conflict prevention.”