29 November 2020
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How not to lose the peace in Iraq

Sunday, 26 November 2017 23:01

The defeat of Daesh is imminent, despite isolated pockets where the terror organization still has a presence. A complete victory over Daesh would be a great achievement for Iraq and the international community, and a successful model for fighting terrorism. But how can we sustain this victory and win the peace as well?

The liberation of Mosul and other towns that Daesh overran a few years ago has been a major success. But this is no time for complacency, even with the resounding military victories that have destroyed most of Daesh’s fighting force and retaken most of the territories it once held.

First, let us make sure its remnants are dealt with decisively. According to various reports, it still has a sizable presence in several localities, including Rawah. While destroying its remnants, it is equally important to stabilize areas liberated from its grip. There should be no repeat of past mistakes, when Al-Qaeda was defeated and its leaders killed or captured, but the Iraqi government failed to capitalize on those victories.

We have been there before: When Al-Qaeda was defeated, after its leader Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006, the triumphal policies the Iraqi government employed toward Sunni communities were counterproductive. Their towns were not reconstructed, and public services remained meager as development funds were either siphoned off by corrupt officials or diverted elsewhere.

At the same time, Iranian-inspired, funded and trained sectarian militias constantly terrorized those communities. During that time, those militias were working totally outside government oversight, some run by close associates of former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and funded from looted public funds. Those conditions contributed to the anger, frustration and despair of Sunni communities.

Al-Maliki’s divisive policies made the rebirth of Al-Qaeda almost inevitable, especially after he quelled peaceful protests by excessive force that left hundreds dead and wounded in several Iraqi towns. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was a minor figure in Al-Qaeda’s rebirth, but he decided in 2010 to found a more lethal organization, Daesh.

What we have learned from that experience is that winning the peace is just as important as winning the war. The Iraqi government has a long way to go to win the hearts and minds of the communities just liberated from Daesh’s poisonous clutches.

Stabilization of liberated areas cannot be achieved through military and security means only, important as they are. It needs several additional factors, starting with addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of affected communities, who still do not have adequate food, shelter or health services.

Economic and social development are just as important in order to provide schooling, jobs, and the skills needed to engage in the labor market. Liberated areas will also require political reforms that allow for all communities to be represented in political, military and security services in order to achieve inclusive governance. Last but not least, there is an urgent need to establish dialogue aimed at deliberative social reconciliation at all levels.

Stabilization efforts are the primary responsibility of the Iraqi government, which has abundant resources and knowhow. Iraq is endowed with great natural resources — oil, water and fertile land — that are unparalleled in the region. It is also blessed with a highly educated population and skilled labor. It can manage sizable development projects on its own.

But to achieve speedy results and ensure transparent, fair and balanced outcomes, Iraq needs help from the international community. Iraq’s friends and partners have expressed their readiness to help.

Kuwait, for example, plans to host a donors conference in early 2018 for the reconstruction of Iraqi areas liberated from Daesh. Kuwait recently said it is “in regular contact with the Iraqi government and the World Bank in this regard,” adding: “The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development seeks to provide a clear-cut framework and set of objectives for the conference.”

This is not the first international effort for Iraq’s recovery. The Iraqi and US governments were involved in almost all those efforts. The World Bank and the UN also had leading roles in some, managing for example the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq. Another early fund was the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. Unfortunately, not all of them were successful.

Credible evaluations identified some of the shortcomings. Widespread corruption, poor governance and lax supervision were key problems. One audit in 2005 put stolen funds at $8.8 billion, just two years after the US invasion of Iraq. Corruption was also found in subsequent recovery programs.

There were many other shortcomings that rendered some programs ineffective, especially in addressing the needs of fragile communities and immunizing them against radicalization and recruitment by terrorist groups.

As we celebrate military victories against Daesh and prepare for stabilization programs, we should reflect on previous successes and failures, especially the latter, to avoid repeating those mistakes.

Source: Arab News

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