Iraq has been ravaged in recent years by cycles of warfare, a growing refugee crisis, crippling sectarianism, and the violent spread of the self-styled Islamic State extremist movement (also known as ISIS, ISIL or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh). In the past decade, Iraqis have made some progress in building their government—approving a constitution to replace that of the Saddam Hussein era, and holding successive elections for parliament and provincial governments. Still, governing institutions remain weak, and corruption and poverty endemic. The ISIS threat and rising violence compelled U.S. military advisors to return to the country in 2014, after having withdrawn in 2011. The continued weakness of governance in Iraq—along with ISIS’ seizure of much of northwestern Iraq and adjacent parts of Syria, and its recruitment of young Muslims worldwide—poses a long-term challenge to stability in the region and globally.
The U.S. Institute of Peace has worked without interruption in Iraq since 2003 and has offices in Baghdad and Erbil to strengthen institutions and communities in their efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts without violence. USIP-supported groups such as the Network of Iraqi Facilitators have halted violent feuds in Iraqi localities, saving lives and re-stabilizing communities. Following the June 2014 massacre of Iraqi cadets at the Camp Speicher military base near Tikrit, for example, USIP helped NIF lead a dialogue between Sunni and Shia tribes in 2015 to prevent a violent escalation of tensions and revenge killings.
For a country with a long history of communal conflict, such a peacebuilding capacity within a strengthened civil society is essential not only to stability, but to hopes of future government systems that can respond more effectively to the needs of Iraq’s people.
USIP’s work in Iraq includes:
Developing the capacity for peacebuilding and cohesion. USIP provides technical and financial help to SANAD for Peacebuilding, an Iraqi civic organization governed by a diverse board of directors with experience in peacebuilding, civil society, rule of law, human rights, media, academia, and government. SANAD, in turn, offers expertise and other support to groups such as the Network of Iraqi Facilitators, professionals trained in mediating communal disputes that pose a risk of violence. Long before the 2015 Tikrit intervention, USIP in 2007 helped the network mediate among warring Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in the city of Mahmoudiya, in an area known as the “Triangle of Death,” to negotiate a peace that restored security, public services, normal business and the rule of law. In 2012 and 2013, the facilitators mediated tensions between Christian and Shabak religious minorities in the Nineveh region.
Support for Iraqi minorities. USIP’s work led to the creation of the Alliance of Iraqi Minorities to advocate peacefully for the rights and interests of Christians, Yazidis (Ezdees), Sabean-Mandaeans, Shabak, and other minorities. Their activism led Iraq’s Education Ministry to recognize religious minorities for the first time in school textbooks. Following ISIS’ June 2014 takeover of the city of Mosul, the alliance aided people fleeing the fighting, and it has engaged U.N. agencies and others to protect minorities. They also have worked with the parliament of the Kurdistan Region, contributing to a law on minorities’ rights and a draft constitution.
Justice and Security Dialogues. With Iraqi civil society organizations, USIP convenes police and community leaders in Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, and Kirkuk provinces to conduct dialogues that identify and counter the sources of misunderstanding and fear, and build a culture of mutual responsibility for problem-solving. In Basra in 2014, such a dialogue found civilian mechanisms, such as nighttime guards recognized in Iraqi law, to help fill a security vacuum. In the past two years, the dialogues also have helped address justice and security needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and contributed to the amendment of Iraq’s law on compensation to include IDPs.
Grants to Peacebuilders. A current grant supports women’s organizations advocating for greater influence in governance, based on the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which calls for better protection of women and girls in violent conflict and more involvement in decision-making.